Mission Hills Man Sues City Over Fallen Palm Tree

Michael Burke and his wife, Edith, claim the city failed to maintain or remove hazardous trees

A Mission Hills man, whose legs were crushed by a falling palm tree, has filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego.

Michael Burke suffered serious injuries when a Queen Palm tree along Lark Street fell on his legs in January 2010.

“A palm tree had fallen on my car so I asked my friend to pick me up,” he recalled Tuesday on the steps of the San Diego County courthouse. “Suddenly a palm tree blindsided me, landed on my legs, crushing me.”

Burke has lost the use of his legs and blames the city for improper inspections.

In his lawsuit, Burke and his wife, Edith, claim the city failed to maintain or remove hazardous trees.

The tree was owned and controlled by the City of San Diego and had been maintained by city crews for years according to Burke’s attorney Browne Greene.

In 2010, our partners at voiceofsandiego.org reported on the dwindling budget for tree maintenance.

In 2007, the city spent more than $2 million to maintain its 200,000 trees. The city's 30,000 palm trees got a preventive pruning once a year, to snip dying palm fronds and nip berry clusters in the bud.

By the time of the article, published in October 2010, the city's tree trimming budget was down to $1.1 million, with $300,000 of that allocated for palm trees according to voiceofsandiego.org.

“The city had walked away from its responsibility to do this and claims it wasn’t practical to do this after they had done this for decades,” Greene argued.

Jonathan Heller, a spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, would not discuss the case with NBC 7 San Diego but was quoted in a recent San Diego Union-Tribune article.

"It would be impossible to inspect every tree in the right of way, and the law does not require cities to do so," Heller told the Union-Tribune.

Greene said it’s unfair for the city to expect homeowners to maintain these large trees.

“All these hovering giants are out there, waiting for the next storm,” he said.

Burke told reporters he filed the lawsuit because he’d like to see the city take steps to bring back trimming and inspection of palm trees

“I’m concerned for my family, for my wife, for my special-needs son but I’m also concerned for others. The danger still exists for people in the community of Mission Hills,” Burke said. 

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