On the morning of Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at around 10AM, an American elm tree suddenly fell on West Drive in Central Park near 62nd Street where Anne Monoky Goldman, a Manhattan mother, was strolling with a baby strapped to her chest and two toddlers in a double stroller.
Witnesses said they heard a loud, horrifying crack, and there was very little time to react afterwards.
“It started crackling, and it just fell within seconds,” one eyewitness told CBS News.
The 39-year-old mother tried to shield her children from the tree as it abruptly toppled over. The elm struck Goldman in the head and then trapped Goldman and her three children underneath its branches. The massive tree, which was at least 75 feet tall and at least three feet in diameter, fell with such force that the roots were ripped from the ground.
Stunned eyewitnesses went to help the mother and her children. Four mounted police officers were in the area as well. When they heard the loud crack and saw people rushing to the scene, they quickly followed.
Goldman was rendered unconscious for a couple minutes. When she regained consciousness, she panicked and asked about her children.
The victims were taken to New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center where Goldman was diagnosed with a fractured vertebrae and will be undergoing further tests. The two-year-old suffered a fractured skull, and the other two children had facial bruises. The children were listed in serious condition due to their age while Goldman was listed in critical but stable condition.
We wish the mother and her three children a swift and full recovery after the traumatic event.
This incident serves to remind us that tree falls in public places can wreak havoc and cause very serious injuries and even death to pedestrians and people in cars passing by. To prevent incidents like this from happening, tree owners have a responsibility to maintain the trees for public safety. Central Park is owned by the City of New York and managed by Central Park Conservancy. The responsibility for the condition of this tree rests with those two entities.
In incidents where victims are hurt by tree falls, the owner and/or manager will be held accountable if:
1. They received notice of the tree being hazardous and failed to appreciate the severity of its condition.
2. They should have known about the condition of the tree and did not do anything to rectify the situation. In legal terms, this is referred to as constructive notice.
In the case of this recent Central Park tree fall, the cause was later determined to be root decay. The Central Park Conservatory released a statement which said that there were “no visible signs of decay or disease” when the tree was last inspected in November 2016.
Damaged and decaying roots, unfortunately, are a common cause of trees becoming a hazard to the public. Tree scientist Pascal Pirone reported that more than half of the problems in trees can be traced back to root damage or disease. Root decay itself can be hard to detect. One way to tell if the roots may be diseased is if there are “mushrooms” at the base of the tree. If there are indications that the root of the tree may be decaying, root samples need to be tested for decay organisms.
Other signs of hazardous trees include:
- Dead branches
- Wounds, cracks, and holes
- Lopsided position
- Fungi or other evidence of disease
- Slowing growth rate
- Irregularities in leaf size, shape, and color
In the recent Central Park tree accident, more investigation is needed to determine if the City of New York or Central Park Conservancy should be held accountable for this frightening event. If there were signs of tree decay or other warning signs that this tree represented a hazard, it may potentially serve as constructive notice that the Central Park Conservancy should’ve known about the situation and rectified it to prevent this recent incident.
If you have questions about laws surrounding tree fall incidents, please feel free to contact the personal injury attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy. Our trial lawyers offer free consultations and are happy to assist you in your legal questions. In 2016, the Law Firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy attained 4 of the Top 5 Settlements in all New York State for personal injury victims.
Very few law firms have successfully filed a lawsuit against the City of New York in tree-related cases. Block O’Toole & Murphy recovered an $8.8 million settlement for an accident victim against the City of New York in a case involving a problematic tree blocking a stop sign.