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$90,000 awarded for injuries from falling tree limb

Injured youth sues St. Louis for negligence

A boy who sued St. Louis after a tree limb fell on him won $90,000 from a city jury.

According to the family’s attorney, Robert Taylor, then 11, was playing outside near his home on a hot but calm July 2005 day when a tree limb fell, breaking his leg and causing other injuries such as cuts and bruises.

The lawsuit alleged that the boy’s injuries were “directly and proximately caused by the negligence and carelessness of the city of St. Louis.” The suit claimed the city failed to properly maintain the tree, allowing it to remain in a publicly accessible area after it was dead.

Plaintiff’s attorney Matthew Sauter, of Sauter Sullivan in St. Louis, said medical bills paid in the case amounted to about $15,000, and the jury awarded the low end of what he requested.

The city’s attorney had filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing sovereign immunity protected the city from such negligence suits, and the plaintiff didn’t prove the case fell under an exception to that protection.

The case reached trial in November. Sauter said the judge never ruled on that motion because the plaintiff had evidence that the case could fall under an exception. Under state law, sovereign immunity does not apply if the injury stems from a public employee’s driving a vehicle or from the dangerous condition of public property.

For such a negligence suit to proceed on the dangerous condition piece, the law requires a plaintiff to show several elements, including that the injury directly resulted from the dangerous condition and an employee caused the danger or that the government was aware of the dangerous condition in time to act to prevent harm.

The tree in question was owned and maintained by the city.

“There is no evidence that the city of St. Louis had constructive notice that a branch of this one tree out of 80,000 street trees was going to fall on July 29, 2005,” the city argued in its motion filed by Thomas McDonnell, of the city counselor’s office.

Sauter said both the boy’s father and another neighbor said they had called the city to report the tree was a problem. He said the father took a picture of the tree shortly after the accident in which it’s clear the tree was dead or dying while surrounding trees were healthy and blooming. The tree was quickly removed after the injury, he said.

During trial, he said, city officials testified that they had no records of such complaints being filed.

McDonnell didn’t return a call seeking comment by press time.

The city has filed a motion seeking a new trial, but no hearing has been set.

 

  • â–  $90,000 jury verdict
  • â–  Personal injury
  • â–  Court: St. Louis City Circuit Court
  • â–  Case Number/Date: 22062-00547/Nov. 6, 2008
  • â–  Judge: David Mason
  • â–  Last Pretrial Offer: $25,000
  • â–  Last Pretrial Demand: $40,000
  • â–  Plaintiffs’ Expert: Dr. Matthew Dobbs, Children’s Hospital (pediatric orthopedic surgeon), St. Louis
  • â–  Caption: Robert Taylor, a minor, through next friend Prentice Taylor v. City of St. Louis
  • â–  Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Matthew Sauter, Sauter Sullivan, St. Louis
  • â–  Defendant’s Attorney: Thomas McDonnell, City Counselor’s Office, St. Louis