Picnickers injured by fallen tree branch sue Menlo College


A San Bruno family has filed a lawsuit against Menlo College seeking more than $2.5 million in damages after a woman and her then 2-year-old daughter were injured when a large branch snapped off a tree and fell on them during a picnic in August 2017. Another woman who was injured in the incident has filed a separate lawsuit against the Atherton college.

A 50-foot-long heritage oak tree branch fell and struck Jasmine Garcia and her daughter Zealyn while they stood on the school’s quad during a company picnic, according to a suit filed Dec. 28 in San Mateo County Superior Court against the college.

Zealyn was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured skull and severe eye lacerations; she was reported at the time to have a potential concussion and traumatic brain injury. The little girl was taken to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, where she underwent surgery on her right eye.

According to the lawsuit, Zealyn still has scars on her face from the cuts caused by the tree branch.

"Zealyn’s age at the time of the incident (two years old) complicates her prognosis and recovery," Rowena Seto of the Medina Seto Law Group, which is representing the Garcia family, said in an email. "It is difficult to discern the extent of neurological and neuropsychological injuries when they are sustained at such a young age. Indeed, there are very few neuropsychologists in the Bay Area of whom I’m aware that will treat or evaluate patients as young as Zealyn."

Garcia, who was pregnant at the time of the incident, suffered a broken toe, a sprained ankle, a head injury and cuts and bruises, among other injuries.

The family is seeking $2.5 million in damages and an unspecified amount in economic, punitive and other damages against the college, according to the lawsuit.

An arborist hired by Medina Seto examined the tree, but testing was limited because the college removed the rest of the branch after the incident, according to the lawsuit. The rest of the tree was cut down shortly thereafter.

“Notwithstanding the obvious signs that the failure of the subject tree was imminent and inevitable and despite their prolonged failure to maintain or inspect the subject tree and others on the property, Menlo College recklessly advertised its property, including the quad, as available for rent for events such as corporate picnics, weddings and private parties,” the lawsuit states.

A Menlo College spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuits.

“The tree bough (branch) that fell was really massive,” Seto said. “The branch (that fell) made up about 25 percent of the tree’s total canopy. ... it’s egregious to think that Menlo College neglected their legal duty to inspect and maintain their tree and instead profited.”

Garcia's husband Chris and their daughter Irelyn were physically unharmed in the incident but have suffered psychological trauma from witnessing it, according to the lawsuit.

The tree branch also injured two other women — Julie Dale and Jodi Cohen. Dale, who is also represented by Medina Seto, filed a lawsuit against Menlo College on Dec. 28.

Dale was sitting at one of the picnic tables directly under the tree when the branch fell. She was taken to Stanford Hospital with a concussion, an eye injury, a cut on her forehead that required stitches, a sprained ankle and other injuries. She may also have long-term neurological damages from the incident, according to the lawsuit. She is seeking unspecified damages for her injuries. Read her filing here.

If the tree branch had fallen just an hour earlier, more people could have been hurt or even killed, Seto said.

“The space had cleared out because most people had finished eating,” she said. “It really could have been a greater tragedy had that (tree branch) come down only an hour before."

Seto said the college hasn’t apologized to the Garcias, which is something the family is “really dismayed about,” she said.

Case management conferences for both lawsuits are scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 1.

Read the full Garcia lawsuit here.


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Like this comment
Posted by tree fella
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 4, 2019 at 7:05 pm

With trees comes the responsibility to maintain them, especially in highly frequented and trafficked areas.
All large trees need pruning and a regular health check-up. You don't get "pretty" for free, but it sure guarantees that people are safe and the tree is healthy, to be enjoyed by all.

However the sad outcome of this, besides the severe physical harm and psychological damage of people harmed, is that many will take this as an excuse to get rid of large trees all together.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 4, 2019 at 9:02 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

tree fella:

if people aren't willing to maintain these heritage trees, then by all means, remove them. People's lives are far more important than a tree. If we're truly that concerned about the trees, then there need to be ordinances requiring proper care and maintenance of these trees. If the city doesn't have the stones to mandate such requirements then they aren't serving the citizens they are supposed to, nor are they actually concerned about the health and longevity of said trees.

Like this comment
Posted by Tree Fella
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 5, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Let's just chop all the old trees down...Little bit drastic, don't you think?
Prefer to live in a city without trees? Plenty of places to choose from.

what about a little common sense and personal responsibility instead of more Nanny Rules?

I like it just fine as it is, and prefer adult, grown up neighbors who understand heritage, tradition and the unique character of our town.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 5, 2019 at 8:28 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"I like it just fine as it is, and prefer adult, grown up neighbors who understand heritage, tradition and the unique character of our town."..

So do I. Problem is that most people won't take proper care of their heritage trees unless forced to. Most of our neighbors aren't actually "adult", "grown up" nor do they "understand heritage". One only need walk around MP to see that is the fact. Most trees are not properly cared for. If the city doesn't want to step up and MAKE tree owners take care of their trees so they don't kill or injure someone, then they should be removed before they do.

Like this comment
Posted by Lobotom Mufasi
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 5, 2019 at 11:20 pm

There you go again Menlo Voter. You get off track so easily. Menlo College, where this incident took place, is in Atherton, not Menlo Park. So why are you talking about walking around private properties in MP and comparing to this? Non-sequitur. And yeah, what a great idea to have more government mandates about what we do and how we manage our properties. Flippin’ brilliant.

2 people like this
Posted by ArbolDeFuego
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 6, 2019 at 7:51 am

Atherton has many ordinances which tell owners and tenants what to do, including how to take care of their trees:

8.08.010 Responsibility of property owner.
It shall be the responsibility of owners, tenants and occupants of property to discover the existence of dead or dangerous trees located on such property. Any owner, tenant or occupant of property in the town on which property there is a tree which appears to be dead, is liable to fall, is dangerous or is an obstruction to public travel shall report in writing the existence of such hazard to the superintendent of streets and shall, within ten days after observation thereof, at his own expense, cut down and remove such tree. (Ord. 329 § 7 (part), 1974; Ord. 297 § 1, 1970)

Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

Setting aside the risk of a tree injuring someone, there is also the implication to the fuel load. The fires in Paradise and Santa Rosa demonstrate why vegetation and tree removal are important. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency had similar constraints on tree removal .. until the Angora fire had them reassess. One of the solutions they came up with is having the fire department designate trees for removal.

Like this comment
Posted by Danielle B
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 6, 2019 at 2:21 pm

Lobotom Mufasi: You shouldn't critacize Menlo Voter for posting their opinion. He/she tries hard. This is a inclusive forum where all voices should be free to express views.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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