The San Diego City Council approved a $750,000 settlement Tuesday for a woman who was crushed by a falling two-ton tree branch five years ago at De Anza Cove in Mission Bay.
Witnesses say 32-year-old Lorin Toeppe was walking with her husband when a ten-foot section of the tree suddenly snapped and fell. Her boyfriend and several park visitors scrambled to find her in the pile of debris.
Lorin’s attorney Daniel Balaban told NBC 7 her leg was crushed, her back was fractured and she suffered other crush injuries that damaged her nerves.
“[Her injuries] really impacted her ability to get along in this world from every standpoint,” Balaban said.
Balaban argued the city failed to properly maintain the tree in question. According to Balaban, the city originally argued it did nothing wrong and that with millions of trees it can't possibly foresee every potential hazard.
Lorin’s case actually changed state law. While you still walk park paths at your own risk, state and local governments can now be held liable for failing to maintain surrounding trees.
"I'm very proud that we continued this fight and changed law by standing up for people who are hurt by no fault of their own," Lorin said in a statement released after the council vote.
Before the accident, Lorin was an assistant physical therapist who had moved to San Diego from the Midwest. She hasn’t been able to return to work, but her parents say she’s not giving up.
Balaban said Lorin can walk now, but not without pain.
People spending the afternoon near the bay that day heard a cracking noise just before the tree came crashing down.
“I heard kind of like a scrape at first and then it kind of expanded into like a large crack,” said Jonathon Rubio. “We all just turned around and we seen the branch almost, it was about to fall, and it started cracking and it came down super quick.”
About 50 people holding a family reunion nearby jumped into action and helped pull Lorin out. It was such a large limb, Rubio said there was no way they could move it.