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Fallen Tree Fatalities: When to File a Wrongful Death Claim

scale of justice on tableA large eucalyptus tree in a public park crashed to the ground in mid-December, killing one person and injuring at least 5. All the victims were members of a wedding party having pictures taken under the tree. A witness said the eucalyptus split in half and struck several people.

One injury was described as “moderate.” The other four were minor.

The tree was located in Whittier, California’s Penn Park, a popular site for weddings, parties, and photo shoots. Los Angeles County fire officials indicate that the ongoing drought in California may have weakened the tree.

Officials also said, however, that no other trees in the area were considered vulnerable to a collapse of the same kind.

One witness, Gilbert Duran, was at a birthday party taking photographs under the tree right before the wedding party. He posted a Facebook video saying “We walk away and five minutes later this thing collapses on a whole wedding party.”

Penn Park is maintained by the City of Whittier, California’s Parks, Recreation & Community Service department. The department’s website states: “The Park Division is responsible for the maintenance and improvement of Whittier’s 20 parks, greenspace areas, street medians and an impressive array of parkway trees.”

Wrongful death and personal injury law

While liability claims stemming from this incident cannot be discussed with certainty, the case does raise several points of law regarding wrongful death and personal injury claims in general and claims against government entities in particular.

First, under California law, wrongful death claims can be brought if someone dies due to the negligence or wrongful act of another person or another entity. Negligence generally means that proper care or caution was not taken in situations where the responsible person or entity should have known that proper care and caution was needed.

Wrongful death claims are brought in civil court. In other words, they are unlike homicide or robbery cases, where criminal charges are brought by the state itself. Wrongful death suits can be initiated by surviving family members. Damages can include claims for loss of income, loss of anticipated income, loss of emotional support, and expenses related to funerals and burials.

Second, personal injury claims can be brought under California law if someone has been injured due to negligence or lack of care. Damages in personal injury cases can include damages for medical bills, physical rehabilitation, and medical care. They can include claims for loss of income from work and related financial compensation.

Cases against government entities in California

While plaintiffs in both wrongful death and personal injury cases usually have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim — a period referred to as the statute of limitations — cases against a government body have a very different time period.

It’s important to understand that claims against governments in the state must be filed within six months of the date of the accident. The filing is called a Notice of Claim. In addition, each government entity has separate rules for filing. If a claim against the government is turned down, injured parties or their family members can bring a civil suit.

However, if a Notice of Claim is not filed or the rules are not followed, the plaintiff may not be able to file a civil suit at a later time. It is therefore highly important that injured parties and their families contact an experienced attorney to discuss the regulations for filing a Notice of Claim as soon as possible.

Fighting for your rights 

Ellis Law Firm aggressively represents victims of wrongful death and personal injury accidents. If you have been hurt or lost a loved one as a result of injuries caused by negligence, please contact us today. Our consultation is free. We will perform a thorough case review and advise you of your rights.