CRUEL FATE: One year ago, a massive falling branch in Central Park killed 6-month old Gianna Ricciutti (above with dad Michael and mom Karla Del Gallo, who was seriously injured).
By Geoffrey Croft
One year after a falling tree branch killed a baby and seriously injured her mom outside of the Central Park Zoo, a New Jersey family is suing the city, the Central Park Conservancy, the zoo management company, and a tree-pruning firm, claiming that parties were aware of the limb’s dangerous condition for weeks before the incident. It was the third time in less than a year that someone had been killed or harmed by a falling tree branch in Central Park.
The mother, Karla Del Gallo, was posing for a photo holding her six-month-old daughter, Gianna Riccuitti, when the limb fell from a 50-year-old honey locust tree. They were standing near the zoo’s Sea Lion exhibit, just feet from the Parks Department’s headquarters. Riccuitti was killed, and Del Gallo was put in a medically induced a coma.
According to the lawsuit, their injuries were caused "by the negligence, carelessness, and recklessness" of the defendants, who had a duty to inspect, prune, and care for the tree. The limb was in danger of falling prior to its snapping on June 26, 2011, when the family was struck due to its "dead, rotted, diseased, decayed and/or otherwise unsafe and dangerous conditions." The tree limb dropped approximately 25 to 30 feet to the walkway, where six-month-old Gianna was in the arms of her mother.
Subsequently, Del Gallo's had multiple surgeries performed on her brain, eyes, face, throat, stomach and shoulder; the marketing executive has lost the ability to read and to dress or bathe herself, according to the New York Post.
“Cognitively, I’m not where I was,” Del Gallo told the paper. “I don't have the full use of my left arm, so I can't do a lot of things. I've lost some vision in my right eye. There's always somebody here to help me, to get dressed, to eat, to go to the grocery store.” She mourns the loss of her daughter and doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to have another child.
The Central Park Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which oversees the zoo, refused to provide records about the tree’s maintenance, according to the Post, but the lawsuit alleges “written notice” of the tree’s dangerous condition was given to the tree-pruning company, which did not act “within fifteen (15) days after the receipt of such notice.”
(Photos: Robert Miller (L) / Catherine Nance (top r) / Laura Cavanaugh
The lawsuit was filed Friday after the city didn't settle a $50 million “notice of claim” from the couple last year. It names the city, the Central Park Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Beucler Tree Experts, which the society had hired to perform tree work. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
"We hope and pray that the city takes responsibility for the dangerous conditions it created in its park and in its zoo," Del Gallo’s husband, Michael Riccuitti, told the Post. He was present at the time of the incident. "We just hope that it doesn't happen to anybody else's family."
Karla del Gallo, 33, and her six-month-old baby Gianna Ricciutti, who was killed by a fallen tree limb in Central Park. (photo: Robert Miller)
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