Photographer aide settles with city, tree firm over wedding party injury
A final part of litigation brought after a 61-year-old woman who was killed by a falling 80-foot tree at her daughter’s 2016 wedding party in Whittier has concluded with the wedding photographer’s assistant agreeing to a settlement.
A lawyer for Stefanie Oviatt told Norwalk Superior Court Judge Raul Sahagun on Tuesday that his client’s case against the city and a tree care company, West Coast Arborists Inc., was resolved with payment to be made 30 days after the settlement is completed.
No terms were revealed.
Oviatt maintained the falling tree nearly severed her left heel, a bloody photo of which was included in her court papers.
The litigation stemmed primarily from claims by family members of San Pedro resident Margarita Mojarro, who died after being hit by the tree. The relatives’ suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in April 2017, alleging wrongful death and that a dangerous condition of public property existed. The case was later transferred to Norwalk Superior Court and Sahagun found in October 2020 that a $28 million settlement with the city was made in good faith.
The family also resolved its part of the case against West Coast Arborists, which contracted with the city to inspect and trim trees at William Penn Park, where the tree fell. The terms of that accord were not divulged.
The 19 plaintiffs include the woman’s husband, Feliciano Mojarro. In the settlement with the city, he received $2.9 million and the bride, Patricia Mojarro, received $3.3 million. Both suffered physical injuries and have post-traumatic stress symptoms, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The tree, which toppled over at the park in the 13900 block of Penn Street at about 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2016, was over-watered and allowed to grow on an unsafe 20% grade, according to the complaint.
A 3-year-old niece of the bride was hospitalized in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury and a half-dozen other people were treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
The tree was a Blue Gum eucalyptus that had become “acutely diseased,” according to the lawsuit.
“Before plaintiffs knew what was happening, the massive, multi- thousand-pound tree was upon them and they could not escape its path of destruction,” according to the suit.
In earlier court papers seeking dismissal of the suit, lawyers for the city stated that the accident was “a tragic stroke of nature” and that “there is no basis for concluding that Whittier is at fault or liable to plaintiffs under California law.”
The city never received any prior complaints, reports or problems about the tree, according to the city’s court papers.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys maintained, however, that the city knew of the dangerous condition of the tree and had the means and authority to protect park visitors against such a tragedy.
The park is a popular photo-taking spot because of its mature trees. The wedding party was posing for pictures when the tree fell.