Emma Zhou suffered a skull fracture, brain injury, and severed spinal cord after a 100-pound tree limb fell on her head while she sat on a bench in Washington Square Park watching her children play. As was expected, she has now filed a lawsuit against the city, with her attorney alleging officials were negligent in their pruning and maintenance of the Canary Island pine in question — leading to the traumatic August 12 injury.
“At least one of these pines was reported to have dropped multiple branches on the playground in 2008 and then in 2009 the playground was taped because of hanging branches,” explained Jeremy Cloyd, attorney for the Zhou family, in a statement provided to SFist. “The City knows that trees pruned like this must be watched closely and pruned frequently because they will continue to develop branches that are too heavy and large for the tree to support.”
The negligence claim was made in September, but the lawsuit was only officially filed yesterday. A spokesperson with the City Attorney's office told the Chronicle that his office had yet to see the suit and thus would not comment on specifics. “Generally speaking, we evaluate every case we receive and decide on the best way to proceed," John Cote told the paper. "What happened to Ms. Zhou is heartbreaking, and our thoughts go out to her and her family.”
Zhou is paralyzed below the waist, and may need to spend another year in the hospital. The Examiner reports that the suit is seeking damages both for medical expenses past and future, as well as the loss of Emma Zhou's ability to earn income. In addition, the paper reports that the suit seeks damages for the "emotional distress” her daughters suffer from witnessing the branch fall on their mother.
As for Zhou? She is learning to use a wheelchair. "She is having a hard time emotionally," Cloyd told the Ex, "but tries to put on a good face, remain positive, and work on her recovery."