Sunday, June 2, 2013

Central Park Tree Lawsuits: $11.5 Million Payout As City Quietly Settles Google Engineer Tree Injury Suit- $ 3 Million For Albanian Immigrant Living in Brooklyn Killed.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn receiving physical therapy from physical therapist Jodi Brangaccio and aide Lydia Soto-Kohen, right, (cq) at the Helen Hayes Hospital in Rockland on Sept. 27, 2010.

Mr. Balir-Goldensohn, 33, a father of two-was injured on the morning of July 29,  2009 when a large rotted tree branch fell and struck him in the head in Central Park. The case was quietly settled in August for  $ 11.5 million.  

Less than six months later,  on February 25,  2010,  Elmaz Qyra,  46,  an Albanian immigrant living in Brooklyn- also a father of two - was killed by a fallen American elm tree near 69th Street while walking through Central Park.  That case was settled in April for $ 3 million dollars as the jury was being selected. (Photo:  Robert Stolarik for The New York Times)

The city - including then parks commissioner Adrian Benepe attempted to blame Mr. Qyra's death on  "wet,  unusually heavy snow."   

There were four tree incidents within a year in Central Park, two resulted in fatalities. The City has paid out tens millions of dollars over the last  5 years alone stemming from what plaintiffs say is the city's neglect in properly maintaining its trees.  

The Parks Department has less than 100 Climber & Pruners for more than 2.6 million trees. The vast majority of their time is spent dealing with street trees not in parks. Long gone are the agency's preventive tree maintenance programs. 

Multiple lawsuits against the City are still pending.


By Geoffrey Croft

The City and the Central Park Conservancy have quietly settled the lawsuit brought by the family of a Google engineer who was seriously injured in Central Park by a fallen tree limb NYC Park Advocates has learned.

The case was settled in August 2012 for $11.5 million dollars but had not been previously disclosed publicly. The incident has attracted a considerable amount of media attention. The suit was filed in December 2009 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

Although the Central Park Conservancy maintains the park under contract with the City it was indemnified by the City and not required to contribute to the settlement.

Sasha Balir-Goldensohn, 33, a father of two- was injured on the morning of July 29,  2009 when a large rotted tree branch fell and struck him in the head in Central Park between the West 63rd Street park entrance (above- below) and the West Drive.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


On the morning of July 29,  2009 Google engineer Sasha Balir-Goldensohn,  33,  was injured when a large rotted tree branch fell from a Pin Oak and struck him in the head.  He was walking alone between the park's West 63rd Street entrance and the West Drive when the limb fell "36 or 37 feet from the ground," according to the suit. 

Mr. Balir-Goldensohn, a computer engineer was transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center where he was in a coma. He sustained brain damage,  spinal-cord damage resulting in paralysis, spinal fractures and respiratory and other serious injuries.  He underwent multiple operations.

The suit claimed that the City of New York and the Central Park Conservancy were negligent and should have properly inspected and maintained the park trees.

Nicholas Papain the victim's attorney told the New York Times in 2009 that the City and the Conservancy should have seen the accident coming. 

"An examination of the tree limb, after this terrible incident, revealed that it was dead and rotted and in real danger of breaking and falling for a long period of time prior to the incident," he said in a statement.

“The limb’s condition should have been readily apparent to the city and the Central Park Conservancy, who were responsible for the maintenance of the park.”

Rebecca Min, Mr. Blair-Goldensohn’s wife, was also a plaintiff in the case. She sued for loss of her husband’s services and support.  They have two young children and live on the Upper West Side. 

Dr. Rajiv Narula was jogging through Central Park on Wednesday when he was jolted by the sound of a gargantuan tree branch snapping, followed by an ear-splitting scream. Narula craned his neck and spotted a man lying on the ground, motionless, 20 feet away.

"I ran across the street to check on him," Narula, 48, told the Daily News. 

"He was breathing. He had a pulse. But his neurological status was pretty bad. He wasn't reacting to anything. He was totally out." Narula also noticed that the injured man, Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, 33, was bleeding profusely from the back of his head.

It was squirting out, with every pulse," said Narula, a family doctor.

Elmaz Qyra,  46, Killed

Elmaz Qyra,  46,  an Albanian immigrant living in Brooklyn was killed by a fallen American elm tree near 69th Street while walking through Central Park.  The case was settled in April for $ 3 million dollars as the jury was being selected. (Photo: Dan Brinzac)

Less than six months later,  on February 25,  2010,  Elmaz Qyra,  46,  an Albanian immigrant living in Brooklyn, was killed by a fallen tree limb while walking  alone through Central Park.

Mr. Qyra, also a father of two, had just finished his busboy shift at the New York Athletic Club.

That case was settled three weeks ago for $ 3 million dollars as the jury was being selected.

He was struck by a 20-foot branch from an American Elm tree that was heavy with snow while walking along Literary Walk in Central Park the City Comptroller's office confirmed. 

That suit also claimed the City and the Conservancy were negligent for not maintaining the tree.

Despite repeated claims by the Parks Department at the time that the tree branch was healthy and it was the weight of snow that caused the tree limb to fall,  court papers revealed that park officials including the Central Park Conservancy had prior knowledge of the limb's dangerous condition but did not act in a timely manner. 

The branch was inspected on December 13 more than two months before the fatal accident and labeled its dangling branches and deteriorated condition as "Priority 1 Immediate Attention," according to court papers. 

This information directly contradicts repeated statements made by then Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and press representatives at the time of the incident which were widely reported. 

The city - including then parks commissioner Adrian Benepe attempted to blame the incident on  "wet,  unusually heavy snow."  

Mr. Benepe told the NY Times the only way to completely prevent trees or branches from falling was to cut down all the trees.  

"There is no reason to believe that anything else might happen like that, ” he said,  referring to the accident that killed Mr. Qyra.

“Having trees and large limbs come down simply because of the weight of the snow is a phenomenon that has been very rarely witnessed. I can’t recall anything like it,” Benepe said.

Adrian Benepe was called out on the false tree safety claim at the time. 

6-Month-old Baby Killed

On June 26, 2010, 6-month-old Gianna Ricciutt was killed and her mother seriously injured in Central Park by a fallen tree branch.

The mother,  Karla Del Gallo,  was posing for a photo holding her daughter in her arms when the limb fell 25 to 30 feet 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. Del Gallo was put in a medically induced a coma.  

A year later the family filed suit against the City,  the Central Park Conservancy,  the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Beucler Tree Experts which the society had hired to perform tree-pruning work. The suit claimed that the parties were aware of the limb’s dangerous condition for weeks before the incident. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

According to the lawsuit,  the  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 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.”

That case is still pending. 

On May 31, 2010  three people were reportedly hurt when a tree branch fell near 74th Street and the East Drive Central Park.  

Recent Cases 

October 29, 2012. Tony Laino,  30,  Mr. Laino was killed when a large tree fell into his home  at 47-36 166th Street in Flushing Queens during hurricane Sandy.  Police found the man pinned in his bedroom on the second floor. The victim's family has filed a notice of their intent to sue the city claiming the tree was not properly maintained.  

May 27, 2012 - Randall's/Wards Island.  East Harlem resident Guanda Betancourt, 62,  was picnicking with her family including grandchildren and nieces and was almost killed when a 26-foot-long dead tree limb struck came crashing down on her head.  She was hospitalized.  Ms. Betancourt sustained "severe and permanent injury to various part of her body" according to the suit.  She is he is blind in one eye has vision problems in the other eye,  she suffered facial fractures,  back and neck injuries.   The suit alleges she was struck by a "falling dead, dilapidated and diseased tree limb." 

Despite having thousands of trees on the island NYC Park Advocates has learned that the Parks Department did not have a single work order in for pruning. Over the next few days after the injury they pruned dozens of dead tree branches. 

Feb. 25, 2010- Central Park. Elmaz Qyra, a 46-year-old busboy and father of two, is killed when a branch snaps on a tree designated to be removed. 

May 31, 2010 - Central Park. Two women, Roberta Colores-Martinez and her daughter, Carmen Cardoso, are injured when an oak drops a big limb. Case pending.

June 26, 2010 - Central Park. Gianna Ricciutti, a 6-month-old girl, is killed by a falling branch outside the Central Park Zoo. Case pending.

July 29, 2009 -Central Park. Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a computer engineer at Google, is badly injured when a dead limb from an oak overhanging a walkway falls more than 30 feet. Case pending.

July 16, 2007 - Stuyvesant Square Park. Alexis Handwerker, a social worker, is seriously injured when a limb crashes from one of the city's largest trees. The city settled for $4 million in February 2012.

Aug. 30, 2007 - Riverside Park. Sohaib Qureshi, a senior in high school, sustains brain damage when a limb falls as he plays catch. Case pending.

Aug. 2, 2006 - Pelham Bay Park, Bronx. A disabled cyclist, Rodolfo Guevara, is injured when a rotting tree falls across a bicycle path. The city settled for $92,500 in January 2012.

July 20, 2004 - Union Square Park. A Manhattan woman, Betty Luh, is struck by a limb from a Siberian elm while sitting on a park bench. The city settled for $500,000 in 2009.
July 22, 2003 - Avenue J in Brooklyn. The canopy of a maple collapses, killing Hinda Segal, a grandmother. A jury awarded $2.95 million in 2007; an appeals court approved $1.6 million in 2009.

Aug. 10, 2002 - Union Square Park. A tree limb crushes the legs of Hyman Schermer, a pedestrian. The city settled for $1.5 million in 2006.

1 comment:

  1. I see that lots of $$ being spent by Parks on things like $1million comfort stations. Yet not enough funding on the state of the art training of urban tree / forestry inspectors to perform tree risk assessments. And so who exactly is performing inspections of city trees in these high pedestrian use right of ways?
    Many Parks foresters with forestry degrees do not know the basics about tree risk assessment and risk management, or what to look for or how to prevent. Climber and pruners (many without a base line tree credential) are dubiously qualified. Its time to differentiate between the "arborists" and the municipal arboricultural experts- those with the skillset and education to do tree assessments, from the arborist administrative bean counter, the arborist chainsaw | bucket truck operator or the newly minted landscape architect/arborist.