Branch Falls From Dangerously Pruned Tree, Paralyzing Woman: The Veen Firm File Claim Against City and County of San Francisco

SEPTEMBER 19, 2016

San Francisco, CA– The Veen Firm, a San Francisco-based law firm focusing on personal injury matters, filed a claim on behalf of the Zhou family against the City and County of San Francisco. The claim states that the City negligently pruned pine trees in Washington Square Park causing a 100-pound tree branch to break off and fall on 36-year-old Emma Zhou, resulting in a severed spinal cord, brain damage and permanent paralysis below the waist.

The nearly 50-foot-tall pine tree was improperly pruned using an illegal practice called “tree topping”, during which the upper trunk of trees are removed, allowing stubs or lateral branches to grow quicker and larger. The branches then break off due to their excessive size and weight, turning trees into dangerous hazards. The claim alleges that tree topping violates San Francisco law and accepted pruning standards. The City also knowingly failed to warn of, eliminate, or protect the public from these known risks. While the City has reported that the trees are healthy, and described this particular incident as a “freak accident”, it is unknown whether the City has looked for and eliminated other hazardous branches created by the topping.

“This was a needless tragedy that would have never occurred if the City had simply followed its own pruning standards,” said Attorney Jeremy Cloyd, who represents the Zhou family. “This is a huge public safety risk, as the other pine trees in this park have been pruned the same way.”

“Washington Square Park is highly trafficked by tourists and local families, and we urge the City to inspect every tree to avoid another person being hurt the way Emma was,” said Andje Medina, co-counsel for the Zhou family.

Doctors say Zhou will need another 16 months of hospital rehabilitation and don’t expect her to walk again. Zhou was talking with her two daughters when she was struck by the branch.

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