SAN BERNARDINO - A Crestline woman was awarded nearly $3 million after a jury found her landlord responsible for life-altering injuries she received because of a fallen tree limb. Sabrina Buelna, now 34, was hurt when the 700-pound tree branch fell on her in the front yard of the home she and her husband rented from Mick Hill, a landlord who owned other properties in the area. 

On July 16, 2010, they were outside barbecuing when they heard the 100-year-old Black Oak tree on the property start to crack. Their toddler was sitting beneath the tree.
Buelna was able to push the child out of the way, but the branch came down on her her foot, which was crushed under its weight and nearly had to be amputated, said lawyers from DeWitt Algorri & Algorri, the Pasadena law firm that represented the family. 

She went through months of treatment and wracked up almost $300,000 in medical bills.
Buelna is still undergoing physical therapy and now walks with a cane. Her husband had to quit his job to take care of her, said Patrick Nolan, an assistant attorney in the trial.
After the incident, officials came out and discovered the tree was completely rotted to the core, and it had been that way for years. 

The plaintiff's claim Farmer's Insurance initially denied liability when the two parties started going back and forth. 

"The offers were not enough," Nolan said. 

But Mark Toohey, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance,said the company made multiple attempts to settle this case before the trial started. 

"All of our attempts were rejected by the plaintiff," he said. 

The two sides went to trial early last month where Hill admitted that he had not conducted a state-required inspection for dangerous conditions before the Buelna family moved in to the mountain home. 

"Landlords have a duty to do a reasonable inspection of the property," Nolan said.
Hill argued that the fallen branch looked healthy from the outside and he could not have known of the rot. 

But during the trial, Buelna's lawyers said Hill had run a tree removal service as part of his real estate development background and that the defendant had at one point described himself as a tree expert. 

"Mr. Hill never described himself as a tree expert," Toohey said Thursday. "He removed trees as part of preparation of a site in his duties as a general contractor."
On Oct. 25 jurors came back with their verdict - that Hill was responsible for the damage and the victim would receive $2.9 million. 

"While we respect the jury's decision, we disagree with the verdict and we intend to explore our post-trial options," Toohey said. 

This personal injury case is a clear warning to all landlords, Nolan said.
"Landlord have a duty to inspect their properties for dangerous conditions before they turn it over to their tenants," Nolan said. 

"Under the law, a tenant has the right to expect the property is free of any dangerous conditions."

from the Seattle Times 

Oleruds' appraisal: Tree cuts value of house by $255,000

A Chinese pine on the edge of Bruce and Linda Baker's Clyde Hill property is worth $18,400, based on an arborist's calculation of the cost to replace the rare tree. But the tree has reduced the value of John and Kelly Olerud's house across the street by $255,000 because it blocks much of their westerly view, according to a recent appraisal.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Chinese pine on the edge of Bruce and Linda Baker's Clyde Hill property is worth $18,400, based on an arborist's calculation of the cost to replace the rare tree.

But the tree drops the value of John and Kelly Olerud's house across the street by $255,000 because it blocks much of their westerly view, according to a recent appraisal.

John Olerud, a former Seattle Mariner, American League batting champion and three-time Gold Glove winner, commissioned the appraisal to bolster his request that the city order the tree removed under Clyde Hill's view-protection ordinance.

The Oleruds have been attempting for more than two years to persuade — or force — the Bakers to cut down two trees that diminish their hillside view of Lake Washington, Seattle and the Olympic Mountains.

The Bakers have refused.

The city Board of Adjustment will hold a second hearing Wednesday on the Oleruds' request for an order to cut the trees down. The board has never issued a removal order since the "view obstruction and tree removal" ordinance was adopted in 1991.

A survey submitted by the Oleruds two weeks ago said the Chinese pine and a Colorado spruce behind it block 40 percent of what would otherwise be a 30-degree western view from a porch off the family room. The view isn't wider because of other trees on the hillside, including a cedar on the Bakers' land.

If the pine and spruce were cut down, the value of the Oleruds' 12-room, 6,680-square-foot hillside home would rise from $4.045 million to $4.3 million, appraisers Patrick Lamb and Barry Wilson calculated.

Property values are closely associated with views in Clyde Hill, a city of almost 3,000 between Bellevue and Medina.

The Bakers' Chinese pine, possibly 50 years old, was there long before the Oleruds bought the property across the street in 2006 and built their luxury house.

The Bakers have cut down a coast redwood; agreed to remove the spruce, valued at $4,800; and pruned the Chinese pine in a way intended to allow some of the view to show through. But they don't want to part with the pine, which they see as beautiful and the Oleruds call an eyesore.

The Oleruds' house is separated from the Bakers' by a street and a grassy lot owned by the Oleruds. The King County assessor rates the view from the Olerud house as "average," the view from the Bakers' $1.1 million house as "excellent."

The board can order the Bakers' trees removed if it finds they unreasonably obstruct the Oleruds' views. Among the factors the board may consider are how much of the view is blocked, whether landmarks are obscured, how the Oleruds' property value is affected, and how the trees and the views they obstruct affect both families' enjoyment of their properties.
Arborist Brian Gilles, hired by the Oleruds, urged the board to order the trees removed, calling them "a quintessential example of why the law was enacted."

Gilles wrote it would not be hard to find small trees or large shrubs that would serve as appropriate replacements for the trees, but Bruce Baker said tree brokers couldn't provide a pine small enough to give the Oleruds a fuller view but large enough to satisfy the Bakers.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105