Trial over fallen tree branch moved to September

Posted at 5:45 PM, May 30, 2018

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A trial has been moved to September in a dangerous condition of public property case against the city of San Diego. The trial had been scheduled to start on Friday.

Lorin Toeppe says a tree branch fell in 2013 striking her as she and her boyfriend were walking through Mission Bay Park.

"There's so much I've lost that I can't get back,” Toeppe said.

Toeppe claims on the day she was injured, the walkway at the park was crowded. She says she moved off the path to avoid people skateboarding.

"We moved over, and I moved further into the grass, and that's when I heard the crack of the tree,” she said. 

She says a massive branch from a towering eucalyptus tree fell.

"I don't remember reacting to it,” she said. “I just know it was a loud crack and after that, I remember waking up seeing the blue sky and branches in my face and leaves in my face."

Toppe says the falling tree branch fractured seven bones in her face, two bones in her spine and fractured two bones in her leg. She says her right eye was hanging lower than the left and the weight of the branch crushed many nerves. In five years she’s been through 19 surgeries.

"It has been five years," she said. "I haven't received an apology, I haven't received any help from the city of San Diego, and I'm over $1 million in debt.”

Toeppe sued the city of San Diego and others claiming they should have known about the dangerous condition of the tree. The lawsuit states, “a reasonable inspection of this tree would have revealed that its upper limbs were too heavy and susceptible to falling.”

"The city doesn't take the steps necessary although they know they have a problem with these trees,” said Toeppe’s attorney Browne Greene.

Greene says the tree hadn’t been maintained and trimmed the way it should have been.

"They trimmed these trees in a technique where they would trim the smaller branches and leave the big branch, which is a foot thick that weighs thousands of pounds, not to be trimmed that would continue to grow and grow out of an area where people are expected to walk,” he said. “All it takes is leverage and weight and age for that to crack and break, and that’s what happened at that moment she was there.”

The city of San Diego and the city attorney's office wouldn't comment on the case or allegations.

In the five years since the branch came down, there have been a series of legal victories and defeats for both sides.

In court documents, the city's initial response filed in 2014 argued in part,  "the danger, if any, which existed because of the condition of the public property in question was a danger that would have been reasonably apparent to and would have been anticipated by a person exercising due care."

While the incident happened at Mission Bay Park, it’s not the first time the tree safety in San Diego has been questioned.

In 2010 a palm tree crashed down on Michael Burke crushing his legs. He sued the city and won more than $7 million. 

In January 2016 Nicki Carano died when a tree came down crushing her vehicle during severe weather. Her family just settled.

Toeppe says she'd like to put things behind her, but the pain is a constant reminder of what happened when she went for a walk in the park.

"This took away my life,” she said. “It's been hard."

Trees in San Diego

According to the city, there’s no current inventory of trees the city of San Diego is responsible for. They are currently conducting an inventory. 

However, 2015 estimates put it at about 220 thousand street trees and about 600 thousand park trees.

The city says palm trees are maintained every two years and street trees every seven years.