In late June, Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn partner Tim Tietjen secured what is believed to be the largest pretrial personal injury settlement for a single plaintiff in California history. The San Francisco-based firm agreed to a $47.5 million settlement with the County of San Mateo and utility giant PG&E on behalf of a young man who suffered catastrophic injuries when a tree fell on his tent.
The inciting incident occurred in the summer of 2012, when then-12-year-old Zachary R. went camping with his family in a designated campground in San Mateo County Memorial Park. In the early morning, a rotten 72-foot-tall Tanoak tree crashed down on Zachary’s tent crushing him while he slept.
The Tanoak tree that fell on Zachary’s campsite was rotten to the core, and had been so for years. There was a gaping 30-inch hole in the stump of the tree that rendered it hollow and rotten.
Due to the severe crush injuries to Zachary’s pelvis, doctors determined that the only way for Zachary to survive was to perform the most extreme lower-limb amputation—a hemipelvectomy, also known as a hindquarter amputation. Not only would Zachary lose his right leg, but his right pelvis and buttock as well. Zachary underwent over 30 surgeries and initially spent over six months hospitalized.
Zachary sued San Mateo County, alleging a dangerous condition of public property, and PG&E and its vegetation-management contractor WECI for negligence, in failing to maintain the area around its power lines in a safe condition. The lawsuit also alleged negligence against contractor Davey Tree, who the County had hired in 2007 to inspect its campsites for hazardous trees.
Every defendant requested that the court dismiss Zachary’s case without trial. Zachary’s lawyers vigorously opposed all four motions, and defeated them all. Two defendants—the County and PG&E—took their arguments to the Court of Appeal. In two published opinions, the Court ruled neither the County nor PG&E were immune from suit. These two Appellate cases have established groundbreaking decisions protecting recreational users and consumers.
“This case has enormous implications for the public and PG&E, or other real estate owners,” said plaintiff attorney Tim Tietjen. “This hard fought victory on behalf of our client will help improve safety throughout California’s campgrounds and public spaces,” added Tietjen.
The County and its contractor Davey Tree agreed to pay $30 million to settle the case. The plaintiff settled with PG&E and its contractor WECI for $17.5 million, with WECI and its insurers paying the entire sum.
The firm’s results should come as no surprise, as it was recognized for having the top settlement in Northern California in 2016 in last year’s edition of Northern California’s Leading Lawyers. In that case, Tietjen secured $24 million on behalf of a victim of a horrific auto accident, which you can read about in the firm’s 2017 profile.