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Is God or Irvine Co. to Blame for Tree’s Crushing Fall?

Granted, God works in mysterious ways, but did He cause a 70-foot eucalyptus tree to fall onto Farshad Farhand’s Mazda 626, totaling it, while he was driving on University Drive in Irvine?

And if God wasn’t at fault, is the Irvine Co.?

Farhand, who graduated this spring from UC Irvine with a degree in computer science, says he’ll never forget the Sunday morning of last Nov. 13. He was on his way to a computer lab on campus and was taking the same route along University he’d taken for four years.

He had the street to himself and remembers just passing the IHOP restaurant when, from off to his right, he heard a cracking sound. Momentarily, one of the towering eucalyptus trees next to the street toppled onto the roof of his 1985 Mazda sedan. Farhand escaped with minor physical injuries but a major case of the jitters.

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The tree landed on the roof, smashed both front and back windshields and rendered the car instantly obsolete. A repair shop told him to forget about it.

The tree stood in a row of trees outside the Parkwood Apartments. The Irvine Co. owns the property.

Through an attorney, Loren John Castro of Yorba Linda, Farhand sued for damages, asking that the Irvine Co. reimburse him $12,000. The company has refused. An insurance adjuster handling the claim, according to Castro, called the mishap “an act of God.”

“I have a hypothesis,” Castro says. “That tree was defective. I’ve been told trees like that don’t fall the way this one did. This tree came completely out of the ground.”

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Castro originally assumed the tree may not have been pruned properly, causing it to become top-heavy. But tree experts offered him other possible causes, and Castro even found some case law involving eucalyptus trees.

“They have a tendency to split or break, so some type of maintenance is required. When I started talking to experts, I began to learn it isn’t necessarily the pruning of the tree. I started to learn that when trees fail, it’s usually from man-made reasons.”

That’s why he’s asked for maintenance records for the trees on the apartment complex property. If he doesn’t get them, Castro says, he’ll take the case to trial.

I met Farhand for lunch Thursday. A slight man with playful eyes who says he’s trying unsuccessfully to gain weight, Farhand has what you’d call the good attitude about the situation. He can laugh about the incident, and why not, since everybody else does, he says. “Sometimes they try to be nice or polite about it, but they all laugh,” he says.

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His friends have gotten lots of mileage about the “act of God” explanation, ribbing him mercilessly about being “a bad boy; God must have struck you down.”

He remembers vividly the moment of impact. “For some odd reason, I looked over and saw the tree coming down. It was so huge, there was no way I could dodge it. I still remember I was driving, listening to the radio and, boom, I was stopped.”

Realizing he wasn’t seriously hurt, he said his first thoughts were that he had just lost the first car he ever owned. It also dawned on him he had no insurance, a situation he sheepishly confesses to and which resulted from his insurance costs being prohibitive, he says.

Still, he decided not to feign injury from the incident, he says. “I’m not that kind of guy. If I had said right off the bat that my neck hurt, my shoulder hurt, my case would have been settled in a week.”

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All he really wants, he says, is a car. “I’m driving my brother’s car, and I got no money,” he says, making it almost sound funny. He’s working at an Irvine computer consulting firm but still has an outstanding $15,000 student loan, he says.

Castro believes the Irvine Co. has treated Farhand’s claim cavalierly, while at the same time dragging things out in an effort to get him to drop the case.

I left a message Thursday for Scott Smith, who is representing the Irvine Co. on the matter. I had hoped to get his legal reading of the potential liability. His secretary said he got the message, but I didn’t hear from him.

“If they could show that lightning struck the tree or a tremendous gust of wind of 150 miles an hour hit that nothing could withstand, then I would turn to Farshad and say, ‘Something happened, and you have to pick up and move on,’ ” Castro says. “But from the very beginning, the company’s attitude was, ‘You’re just a little guy, there’s not much money involved and we’re going to make it imprudent for you to litigate.’ ”

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Castro says he’ll press the case until he sees evidence that proves no one is at fault. “My own personal opinion is that when a company is taking advantage of doing business in this society, they have to insure themselves properly for any type of liability. I’m not talking strict liability, but here you have a case where you put a tree next to a public thoroughfare and an innocent individual goes by the property and a tree lands on (his car), destroying property, and basically their response is, ‘Tough luck, kid, it’s not our problem.’ ”

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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