$500K Settlement to Man Injured as He Watched Tree Being Cut Down
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on December 30th, 2016
A 69-year-old St. Paul, Minn., man has reached a $500,000 settlement with the city after he was severely hurt by a flying 800-pound tree as it was being cut down by city forestry department employees in January 2013.
The tree was diagnosed as having Dutch elm disease, which required its removal, according to an Oct. 19 story by The (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
As the forestry crew was preparing to remove the tree on West Seventh Street, across from the Spot Bar, several people gathered to watch the operations, including Delmer Fladwood, an independent computer consultant who had finished his work for the day and stopped in at the bar for 10 minutes before planning to head home, the story reported.
The forestry workers had removed the tree’s upper limbs and placed them into the middle of the street to use them as a “crash pad” for the tree’s main trunk to fall on as they cut the trunk down, the story stated. The crash pad was designed to take the impact of the trunk and help cushion it’s fall.
Instead, however, when the tree trunk fell onto the pre-cut branches that made up the crash pad at least two of them flew across the street and struck Fladwood in the legs, the story reported. He filed a lawsuit against St. Paul in connection with the incident, which occurred when he was 65. Fladwood suffered broken bones in both legs and a severed artery, leading to five surgeries and three months in the hospital, the story reported.
The city argued that the incident was an accident and that a city employee who was standing near Fladwood was not injured by the flying debris, the story reported.
The plaintiff’s attorney, however, argued that by using a crash pad to try to drop the tree that the forestry workers put spectators at risk, the story reported.
The city has since ended its previous practice of creating a crash pad when taking down large trees, the story added. Instead, city workers are now using large steel plates to cushion the fall of large trees as they are taken down. The St. Paul City Council approved the $500,000 settlement with Fladwood.
Also implemented since the incident are procedures and a written plan for traffic and pedestrian safety around work zones where tree work is being conducted, the story states. At least one worker is now assigned in high-traffic zones to ensure that pedestrians and traffic don’t get too close to the work as it is being done, the story reported. The city also now provides two-way radios and headphones for crews to improve communications in the work zones.
The tree that was being taken down was about 60 feet tall, four feet in diameter and estimated to be 120 to 160 years old, the story reported.
“Fladwood’s lawsuit said city workers did not rope off the sidewalk near the bar or tell pedestrians not to stand there,” according to the story. The city estimated the log that struck Fladwood was 7 feet long, about 18 inches wide and weighed some 826 pounds.
The city initially responded to Fladwood’s lawsuit by claiming official immunity because he “assumed the risk of being near the tree felling operation,” the story reported. The city originally argued that though the accident was awful, it was not the city’s fault.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals, however, “ruled earlier this year that the facts of the case did not allow the city to claim official immunity,” the story continued. St. Paul then filed an appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court, which declined to take the case, and the city and Fladwood agreed to settle.
The $500,000 settlement is the maximum amount a municipality may pay in the state in any tort lawsuit, the story reported. Fladwood’s attorney said that the money would not fully compensate his client for the permanent injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses he experienced in the incident, according to the report.
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