SF could pay $2.25M to woman injured at Palace of Fine Arts

A woman who nearly died after falling from a rotunda at the Palace of Fine Arts three years ago could receive $2.25 million from San Francisco.

Lisa Owen filed a lawsuit against The City in San Francisco Superior Court in July 2014 after falling more than 10 feet from steps leading to a raised platform at the popular tourist spot, claiming that the structure posed a danger to the public.

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, the San Francisco Park Alliance, the Maybeck Foundation — which represents the building’s architect — and the Palace of Fine Arts League were also defendants named in the court filing.

Owen, who was 26 at the time of the accident, visited the Palace of Fine Arts with a group of friends in September 2013 and climbed a series of step-like concrete fixtures that surrounded the rotunda, leading to a raised platform, according to court documents.

When Owen and a group of friends decided to leave the platform around 2:30 a.m., she fell from one of the steps on her way down, resulting in multiple injuries to her spine, court documents show.

The lawsuit claims The City and agencies responsible for maintaining the Palace of Fine Arts were negligent in creating a safe environment for the public. Notably, the concrete fixtures surrounding the rotunda were uneven and poorly maintained, and lacked adequate lighting, hand railings and barriers discouraging people from climbing to the raised platform, according to court documents.

Christopher Dolan, an attorney with the law firm representing Owen, said it was not uncommon to see kids and adults climbing the concrete fixtures that previously served as planters. He added that The City was aware that the steps posed a danger to tourists visiting the site.

“Internal documents showed that the [Recreation and Parks Department] workers indicated that they saw the area as very high risk,” Dolan said.

The City Attorney’s Office said in a statement, “We think this is a fair settlement agreement, which allows the parties to avoid the risks and costs of further litigation.”

A similar lawsuit was filed in August 2010 after a man fell from the steps near the raised platform at the Palace of Arts a year prior, leading him to be hospitalized. That case was later dismissed.

The $2.25 million settlement is scheduled to be introduced at the Board of Supervisors today.

Editor’s Note: Christopher Dolan is a contributor to the San Francisco Examiner.

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