A boy who lost his leg and a portion of his pelvis and buttock after a tree fell on his tent during a camping trip at a public park with receive a $47.5 million settlement from a California municipality and utility group.
In 2012, then 12-year-old Zachary Rowe was camping with his family in the San Mateo County Memorial Park when a rotten 72-foot-tall tree fell and crushed his tent while he was asleep. The only way that doctors could save his life was to amputate his right leg, buttock, and pelvis. Rowe underwent 30 surgeries and spent six months in the hospital. In 2016, Rowe received a prosthetic, which allowed him to walk for the first time in four years.
Rowe sued San Mateo County, alleging a dangerous condition of public property and negligence by Davey Tree, which the county had hired in 2007 to inspect its campsites for hazardous trees. Rowe also sued Pacific Gas & Electric and its contractor, WECI, for negligence in failing to maintain the area around its power lines.
All defendants had requested that the court dismiss Rowe’s case without trial. San Mateo and Pacific Gas even took their arguments to the Court of Appeals which ruled that neither entity was immune from suit. Rowe’s lawyer noted that this case established groundbreaking decisions protecting recreational users. He went on to note that the victory will help improve safety throughout California’s campgrounds and public spaces.
San Mateo County, as well as Davey Tree, will pay $30 million to settle the case, and a contractor for Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Western Environmental Consultants, will pay $17.5 million.
After news of the settlement broke, a spokesman for San Mateo County stated that they are “satisfied with the outcome,” yet also noted that the county had a viable defense. In an email, the spokesman from Pacific Gas & Electric stated that “the incident occurred on county-owned property and the tree did not fall on any PG&E facilities.”
Currently, PG&E is facing numerous lawsuits, many of which are coming from victims of wildfires in northern California that started after power lines came into contact with trees. The litigation, which was filed by dozens of insurance companies, seeks monetary compensation for wrongful deaths, property damage, and unspecified personal injuries. An estimated 172 fires were reported at the outset of the blazes. The fires killed 44 people, destroyed 8,700 structures, and burned 245,000 acres. The insurance-related costs are estimated to exceed $9 billion.