SAN FRANCISCO—Emma Zhou, 36, suffered injuries leading to paralysis below the waist after being struck by a falling tree branch in Washington Square, according to reports. Zhou has filed a claim suing the city of San Francisco for negligence.
The Veen Firm, a San Francisco based law firm that focuses on personal injury matters, filed the claim on behalf of the Zhou family, according to a press release from The Veen Firm. Zhou was speaking with her two daughters in Washington Square when she was hit by a 100 pound bench that had splintered off a Canary Island pine tree. The incident caused Zhou to sustain a brain injury and a severed spinal cord. She is now paralyzed below the waist.
“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, in a statement.
The claim alleges that the tree was improperly pruned due to the use of a “tree topping” method where the upper part of the 50 foot tree was removed. This allows lateral branches to grow quicker and larger. The trees turn into hazards because the branches break off due to their weight and size.
“The city … knowingly failed to warn of, eliminate or protect the public from these known risks,” the claim stated. “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.”
The claim alleges that the “tree topping” method violates San Francisco law and accepted pruning standards. Doctors estimate that Zhou will spend another 16 months in the hospital for rehabilitation. Her husband, Tony Tan, has stated that this has been a hardship on their family with medical bills mounting. In August, the family launched a GoFundMe account to try to raise $50,000 for Zhou’s care.
“This was a needless tragedy that would have never occurred if the city had simply followed its own pruning standards,” said Zhou’s attorney, Jeremy Cloyd, in a statement. “This is a huge public safety risk, as the other pine trees in this park have been pruned the same way.”
Representatives for the City Attorney Dennis Herrera have stated that the accident is under investigation. San Francisco News emailed City Attorney Dennis Herrera and is awaiting comment.