Attorneys for Girl Injured by Falling Tree Branch Accuse City of Destroying Evidence

Published : Wednesday, April 17, 2019 | 5:15 PM

At left, a Pasadena Fire Dept. paramedic tends to 2-year-old Adelaide Palmstrom on Aug. 29, 2017 after she was struck by a falling tree branch as seen in police body worn camera footage. At right, Adelaide in hospital with her mother. Photos courtesy Panish Shea & Boyle LLP

Lawyers representing Adelaide Palmstrom, who suffered traumatic injuries when the branch of a tree on City property fell on her, are asking the court to sanction the City of Pasadena and the Pasadena Unified School District for disposing of the branch.

Palmstrom was a two-year-old preschooler when the branch from an adjacent City-owned park injured her on Aug. 29, 2017, as she played at Linda Vista Children’s Center.

Her injuries included traumatic brain injury, fractured skull (with subdural hematoma), vertebral and left tibia fractures, torn cervical spine ligament, and a lower left leg injury, according to court documents.

Representing the Palstrom family is the firm of Panish, Shea and Boyle, which has now filed a motion seeking court-ordered sanctions against the City for its “willful destruction and spoliation of the most critical item of evidence in this litigation, ie., the subject tree and tree branch that failed and collapsed on two-year-old Adelaide Palmstrom causing her catastrophic injuries,” the motion stated.

Plaintiffs’ filing said the City contracted to have the tree inspected by Board Certified Master Arborist Cris Falco.

“Shockingly, however, while Mr. Falco was on his one-hour long lunch break, and before he or any other party could assess the failed tree and try to determine the cause of failure, Defendant School District destroyed the tree and the branch, cutting it down and chopping it up into dozens of pieces,” the motion alleged. “This happened within 72 hours of the incident.”

Then, plaintiffs contend, with the remains of the tree and branch in the City’s possession for safekeeping, “it mysteriously went missing.”

“The law provides for the harshest of penalties when civil litigants willfully destroy and dispose of valuable evidence,” the motion stated.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Glassman said they are seeking three types of sanctions in a requested court order.

The first is called terminating sanctions. “That is where they are stripped of all their defenses against the case from a liability standpoint,” said Glassman.

The second type of sanction is evidentiary. “That’s where they can’t present certain evidence of their theories,” said Glassman. “They can still argue to the jury that they’re not at fault, but can put on certain evidence.

The third type of sanction is known as the issue sanction.

Said Glassman, “That’s where the court will make an affirmative finding as to what transpired that the jury will hear about. They’ll get an instruction that the City and School District actually destroyed evidence and instruct the jury that it is allowed to infer that it was harmful to [the defendants’] case.”

The court might make a determination on the motion at a June 7 hearing, if not sooner, said Glassman.

Public advocates rarely make comments relative to ongoing litigation.

As of the publication time of this story, Pasadena Now has not received a request for comment from the City of Pasadena relative to this development.