Man Crushed by Giant Palm Tree Awarded $7.6 Million

SUV crushed by palm treeThe city of San Diego must pay $7.6 million to a man who is now paralyzed thanks to a giant palm tree that fell on him, crushing both his legs.

A Queen Palm fell onto Michael Burke’s property, landing on top of his car after a four-day storm in January of 2010. Burke, a 58-year-old attorney, called a friend to give him a ride to work, but turned back when Burke realized he had forgotten his computer in his car. While putting the computer into his friend’s car, a second giant palm tree fell onto Burke. The 60-foot Queen Palm weighed 2,600 pounds. Burke has lost use of his legs and may have to have them amputated.

Burke and his wife, Edith, sued the city for not taking care of trees or performing regular inspections — something the cash-strapped city cut back on recently amid financial troubles.

The couple’s attorneys, Browne Greene and Daniel Balaban, argued the city knew for many years that the trees in the area were aged, diseased and likely to fall, but did nothing about it.

“Rather than regularly monitoring, maintaining and removing them on a timely basis, the city cut back on its inspections, placing budget considerations over the public’s safety. As a result, … Michael Burke will never walk again,” Greene said.

He called the towering tropical trees “hovering hazards with the potential to fall without warning, injuring or maiming anyone in their path.”

The city’s attorney argued that the accident was an “act of God” that could not have been prevented and that the city never received complaints about the trees before they fell.

Attorney Browne Greene headshot

Browne Greene

The jury sided with the Burkes, finding that the tree was in a “dangerous condition” and the city had enough notice about its condition to have done something to prevent the accident.  

After the verdict, Burke said he hoped the city would go back to regularly inspecting and trimming trees so that no one else would be injured like him.

“Until then,” Burke said, “anyone who lives in San Diego, works in San Diego, or visits San Diego is at risk to be hurt or killed by a tree that topples without warning.”


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