Family files suit against City of New Orleans after Jackson Square tree crushes teen boy
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The family of a teen critically injured by a falling tree in Jackson Square has filed a lawsuit against the City of New Orleans.
The suit, filed in Orleans Civil District Court on Wed., July 19, names the city as a defendant in the suit. Other defendants named in the lawsuit include ArborPro Inc., Bayou Tree Service, Inc., Smith Construction Company, and Hudson Insurance Company.
The 17-year-old was visiting New Orleans from San Antonio with his family on July 7 when a portion of an 85-year-old oak tree fell in Jackson Square, hitting him in the head.
Attorney Morris Bart says the boy, identified in the suit as Gavin Cristea, has a severe brain injury.
Bart says Cristea is still in the hospital, recovering from the incident with his family right by his side.
“There are so many unknowns right now,” the Cristea family said in a statement. “We don’t even know what the damage to his brain is and we already know that he has so many more surgeries ahead. It’s been a roller coaster and every time it looks like things start going well, there is some kind of setback and they are back to square one.”
Attorneys say the incident was preventable and the “total failure” of the 85-year-old tree began years earlier.
“The large tree that stood next to the bench had been in critically poor condition for some time and was now on the brink of total failure,” the document reads.
“It was preventable, it should not have happened and can not happen again,” the Cristea family said. “We were visiting a major tourist attraction. How can a visitor feel safe anywhere? It shouldn’t have taken a tree crushing out child for the city to take this seriously.”
The suit claims that construction around Jackson Square may have damaged the tree’s root system, resulting in a loss of “crown volume” and greenery, which could be seen from historical satellite imagery. It would then have been arborists’ responsibility to identify the defects and recommend an action plan to prune the tree and prevent catastrophic limb failures.
“This cycle of decline progresses without improvement until the tree ultimately failed, shedding multiple sizeable limbs,” the document states. “On information and belief, the Jackson Square Renovation Phase II project caused or contributed to the decline of the subject tree.”
The lawsuit says by January 2018 the decline of crown volume had significantly progressed, “visually distinct from the surrounding trees, which appear comparatively much more lush, vibrant, full, and green.”
“If ArborPro Inc., did properly identify the defects in the subject tree,” the document continues, “then Bayou Tree Services and/or the City of New Orleans failed to properly carry out those recommendations and act on those warnings.”
While attorneys seek justice for the family, witnesses to the tree branch collapse, like Natalie Broz, are still in shock.
“As a mother of a six year old, it really hurts to see a mother crying, in shock, over her child,” Broz said.
Broz is an ICU nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital and visited New Orleans on a vacation with her friend. They were enjoying the French Quarter and video taping a brass band playing in front of St. Louis Cathedral when, in the background, a branch is seen falling in Jackson Square and people rushing to the scene.
Broz says she joined a group of two other nurses and a firefighter paramedic who were also enjoying the French Quarter at the time of the collapse. They tried to stabilize Gavin’s head and neck while EMS was enroute.
She says in her 16 years in the medical field, this incident stands out.
“As i was providing compressions, it was like my heart was hurting and my body, I had this overwhelming sensation,” she said. “It was one of the most traumatic experiences in my life. I would say top three.”
Broz says the incident scarred her but doubts Gavin and his family will ever be the same.
“Given that he sustained such a severe injury, the likelihood of him getting better is substantially low,” she said.
The family’s attorneys say they are working on setting up a GoFundMe page to help pay for any expenses while loved ones stay in New Orleans.
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