Sean Mace says he was reading and napping under a pine tree at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park last October when a massive pine cone -- larger than a pineapple -- fell on his head.
Mace said there were no posted signs warning him to watch out for giant falling pine cones. Mace is now suing the U.S. Department of Interior and the historic park, which is managed by the National Park Service, for nearly $5 million in damages.
He claims the whack by the 16-pound pine cone caused significant brain damage.
“To have something like a 16-pound bowling ball fall out of the sky ... it’s devastating,” his attorney Scott Johnson said.
The large cone in question fell from an Araucaria bidwilii, or bunya pine, one of several large coniferous trees found in the northeast corner of the park, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. Found mostly in Australia, the trees produce large pods, which contain seeds known as bunya nuts and can grow up to 40 pounds, according to the lawsuit. The plants are not indigenous to San Francisco but were planted by the park, the lawsuit said.
Park Service spokesman Craig Dalby said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Mace, a U.S. Navy veteran, was visiting the park Oct. 12, 2014, during Fleet Week, an event celebrating U.S. seagoing military services, when the pine cone fell on him, his attorney said.
“He was immediately rendered unconscious,” Johnson said. “Blood was going everywhere.”
Mace was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where surgeons removed part of his skull to relieve swelling, according to the lawsuit. Mace suffered short-term memory loss and will likely need long-term care, his attorney said.
According to the lawsuit, the park posted warning signs and installed barricades and netting around the trees after Mace’s incident.
“The concern is this could happen to someone else,” Johnson said.
In 2002, the huge pine cones drew concerns from officials in the town of Warragul, southeast of Melbourne, Australia. There, Mayor Diane Blackwood warned residents to beware of the potentially lethal pods falling from the trees.
“These huge pine cones have the capacity to be lethal if they were to fall on someone passing underneath from such a large height,” Blackwood said.
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