One Killed Five Injured in Whittier Tree Collapse
Margerita Mojarro, 61, was killed and five others were injured after a large eucalyptus tree fell on them during a wedding photo shoot. According to a KABC news report, Mojarro was the mother of the bride. The tree fell the afternoon of December 17, 2016 at Penn Park, killing Mojarro and critically injuring a 4-year-old girl, who KABC is identifying as a niece of the bride. The wedding party was posing for photos under the tree when it suddenly uprooted and gave way crashing down on the group below. About 20 people were trapped under the tree’s trunk and branches.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family members of Margerita Mojarro. Our thoughts and prayers also go out to the injured victims. We wish them all the very best for a quick and full recovery.
What Caused the Tree to Fall?
Based on this news report, the biggest question that arises from this report is whether the city of Whittier knew that this particular eucalyptus tree posed a danger to park visitors. The article quotes the city manager as saying that the city has a regular tree maintenance program and a certified arborist on staff who is managing parks and street trees. He said they are not clear what caused the tree to fall. The arborist has yet to inspect the scene of the incident. The city is also going to check the structural integrity of the other trees in the park to ensure safety, officials said.
The Problem with Eucalyptus Trees
Eucalyptus trees, which are native to Australia, have earned the moniker “widow maker” in that country – for good reason. In September 2011, the trees made news in Orange County when a 10-ton blue gum eucalyptus fell on 29-year-old Haeyoon Miller’s car and killed her. After the incident, the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach chopped down 100 eucalyptus trees that lined a half-mile stretch of Irvine Avenue.
Eucalyptus trees have shallow roots that don’t go deep enough to bear the weight of the trunk, which could get large and heavy. So, when there is heavy or even moderate wind, there is the risk of the tree falling. Eucalyptus trees must also be pruned annually to control top growth and their overall height. The tree must be inspected by a certified arborist, ideally annually.
We trust officials are looking into what led to this tragic incident. Our personal injury law firm has represented clients involving eucalyptus trees including cases where people are injured by unmaintained trees that tend to shed branches, particularly during the summer. Trees could drop branches or fall without warning, especially when they are not properly maintained. We helped secure $2.5 million for one of our clients who became paralyzed after a eucalyptus tree fell on her in the city of Perris.
In such cases, the city can be held liable for injuries and damages caused. Please remember that any personal injury claim against a governmental agency must be filed within 180 days of the incident, under California Government Code Section 911.2.