Family sues cities, contractor in fallen tree death

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The parents of a motorist killed after a tree fell on her car have sued the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, and the tree maintenance contractor.

Haeyoon Miller’s mother and father filed separate lawsuits within the past week alleging that the two cities and West Coast Arborists were at fault regarding the Irvine Avenue median and its trees.

Aside from medical and burial expenses, they are suing for unspecified damages.

Miller, a 29-year-old Tustin resident, was waiting for a red light on Irvine Avenue at 17th Street, near the Newport-Costa Mesa border, in September when a blue gum eucalyptus fell and crushed her small sedan. She was pronounced dead at the scene.


The parents’ lawsuits also claim that the emergency responders caused greater injury when they tried to remove the 10-ton tree off Miller’s car.

In March, the parents filed wrongful-death claims against the cities, but the cities rejected the claims. Their lawsuits are the next step in the legal process.

Sunyl Chung, Miller’s father, alleges that the cities kept the public property in dangerous condition. In his complaint, he claims that the tree was “maintained in a rotten and decayed condition,” and “was overgrown and leaning dangerously toward the traffic lanes on Irvine Avenue.”

Hyun Myung Suk, Miller’s mother, in her lawsuit alleges that the cities removed the trees and destroyed the fallen tree to conceal evidence.

City officials should have known that the tree was dangerous, the parents claim, because a similar tree on Irvine Avenue had fallen recently. One of the complaints claims the eucalyptuses were planted at a dangerous distance to one another.

Both lawsuits also claim that the median, while defectively designed in the first place, was made worse by later construction projects. The suits also claim that West Coast Arborists was negligent in its care of the tree and median.

Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp said that the city is reviewing the lawsuits, and City Manager Dave Kiff has said previously that the tree that killed Miller showed no outward signs of decay.

Costa Mesa spokesman Bill Lobdell said that the tree maintenance was Newport Beach’s responsibility, but could not otherwise comment because he had not read the complaint.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks will hear the case.

West Coast Arborists Vice President Victor Gonzalez declined to comment.

Chung lives in Seoul and Suk lives in Los Angeles County. They are divorced, but their lawyers are coordinating the lawsuits.

Twitter: @mreicher