It was among the worst accidents ever to happen at a San Mateo (Calif.) County park. In 2012, a diseased tanoak tree at Memorial Park toppled in the early morning, landing on a 12-year-old boy who was sleeping in his tent, the Half Moon Bay Review reported.
The boy, Zachary Rowe, was nearly killed by the impact of the tree, and the case has spiraled into a multimillion-dollar lawsuit to determine who is responsible for the accident. Rowe’s family filed suit against San Mateo County, PG&E and a group of private tree contractors, claiming each should bear responsibility for leaving a rotting tree in close proximity to the campsites.
But they could face an uphill battle in court. Public agencies are normally considered immune from the dangers presented by the natural surroundings in their purview. California Government Code 831.2 specifically states that government agencies are not liable for unimproved public property, and this clause has been used to scuttle other personal-injury cases occuring in public open space.
The case, which remains about a year from trial, is expected to center on whether a campground is considered natural land or an improved property, said attorney Cynthia McGuinn, whose firm is representing the Rowe family.
“The question is, if you go on public land, and the natural conditions injure you, can you sue the government?” she said. “When you take a section of park and say, ‘This here is a campground,’ then we believe everything within that perimeter should be considered improved property.”
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