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Family files claims in case of woman killed by fallen tree

March 16, 2012 | 10:39 am

The family of a motorist killed by a felled eucalyptus tree last year has filed wrongful-death claims against the city of Newport Beach
The family of a motorist killed by a fallen eucalyptus tree last year has filed wrongful-death claims against the city of Newport Beach.

Haeyoon Miller's mother and father filed separate claims within the last two weeks.

Her mother, Hyun Myung Suk, seeks damages "well in excess of $10,000," the minimum amount stated by law, according to her filing. Her father, Sunyl Chung, did not specify an amount.

The claims allege that the city was negligent in its care of the 10-ton, 70-foot-tall tree, which fell from Irvine Avenue's median in September and crushed Miller's small sedan.

Miller, 29, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The city was well aware of their danger, Suk alleges in her claim, because eucalyptus trees previously fell nearby. Her claim also states that the city's construction on the center median caused the dangerous conditions.

City Manager Dave Kiff told the Daily Pilot in November that the tree showed no visible signs of decay.

Public records have revealed that many of the other city-maintained blue gum eucalyptus trees are infected by sulfur fungus, which causes root rot and the eventual collapse of trees.

Suk alleges that the city tried to conceal evidence when it removed and destroyed about 100 eucalyptus trees from that stretch of Irvine Avenue, soon after the accident. City officials have declined to release the results of an investigation into the tree's collapse, citing pending litigation.

Chung's claim alleges the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach were both negligent in maintaining the tree, which was located in Costa Mesa but maintained by Newport Beach.

Chung also alleges that emergency responders failed to stabilize the tree after it fell, a mistake that "caused or contributed" to Miller's death. After the accident, witnesses said that firefighters began to lift the trunk when it dropped again on the car.

Chung is seeking to recover punitive damages as well as the cost of the car, emergency and medical bills, burial expenses, and "the loss of Ms. Miller's love, companionship ... and guidance."

Suk lives near Palmdale and is represented by a Los Angeles law firm. Chung lives in South Korea and is represented by a Beverly Hills firm.


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-- Mike Reicher, Times Community News

Photo: Firefighters lift the trunk of a eucalyptus tree that fell and crushed a Hyundai driven by Haeyoon Miller. Credit:  Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times