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Parents of woman killed by 10-ton tree get $1.1 million in settlement

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Parents of a Tustin woman killed in 2011 when a 10-ton, 70-foot blue gum eucalyptus tree crushed her car each received $550,000 in a settlement agreement with the city of Newport Beach, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The city resolved the lawsuits in May, paying $500,000 of the $1.1-million total, said City Attorney Aaron Harp.

The city's insurance carrier paid $550,000, and the tree-maintenance contractor, West Coast Arborist, paid $50,000, he said.

"I think the city of Newport recognized that this shouldn't have happened, and that they need to be better in maintaining their trees," said lawyer Rahul Ravipudi, who represented the woman's father in the case. "When it comes to the issue of beauty versus the safety of human life, that safety should come first."

Haeyoon Miller was waiting at a red light in September 2011 when a eucalyptus planted in an Irvine Avenue median toppled onto her car.

Firefighters said they found the 29-year-old unresponsive when they arrived.

A city crane was required to remove the tree from the crushed car. Miller, a Juilliard-educated violinist, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Miller's mother, Hyun Myung Suk, and father, Sunyl Chung, each filed wrongful-death claims against the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa in March 2012. The parents are divorced and wanted separate counsel, Ravipudi told the Daily Pilot.

The parents claimed the cities failed to maintain the tree, which was on the edge of Costa Mesa city limits but maintained by Newport Beach.

Miller's father said in a complaint that the trees in the area leaned dangerously toward the street.

After the cities rejected the claims, the parents sued them in June 2012 and also sued West Coast Arborist.

In the May settlement, Newport Beach took full responsibility for the tree, thereby clearing up any outstanding issues with Costa Mesa, Harp said.

Other lawyers in the case and a West Coast Arborist representative couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

Newport Beach began removing eucalyptus trees in the area soon after the accident. The city also paid more than $300,000 to plant African tulip and date palm trees on a stretch of Irvine Avenue near where the accident occurred.

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