City sued over Stern Grove tree death

The family of a woman killed by a falling redwood branch in Stern Grove last April is suing The City on the grounds that the tree was a known hazard, attorneys for the family said Tuesday.

Resident Kathleen Bolton was loading her car in the grove’s concert meadow parking lot April 14 when the branch fell onto the car, crushing it and killing her.

Pleasanton-based HortScience described the tree as, “in decline, with extensive dieback of large branches and significant structural defects which cannot be abated” in a January 2004 report commissioned by the Recreation and Park Department.

“This tree had been in this condition for a very long time,” said Doris Chang, a partner with Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger who is representing Bolton’s parents, Bernard and Mildred. She faulted the city for “being as careless as to not have done something, especially in a [parking lot].”

However, representatives for the department said in April that the tree did not merit immediate action.

“On an ongoing basis, all those trees are looked at,” former Recreation and Park spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis told the Examiner in April. “Our first line was dealing with the worst trees, which this tree was not. And the reality is … tree failure can happen at any time.”

The Boltons filed two initial claims against San Francisco in July. The City Attorney’s office rejected both claims, according to Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the office.

The City Attorney’s office conducted an investigation that found no evidence of liability on the part of the city, but Dorsey characterized the rejection of the Bolton’s claim as “procedural.”

“It’s a step in what will likely be litigation, and is not intended to diminish the seriousness of the loss for the victim’s family and friends,” Dorsey said. “This was a freak accident.”

A formal lawsuit against The City will likely be filed next week, Chang said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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