If A Tree Falls…

Hi Readers — Last week I wrote a iyehbzbthi
piece on ParentDish
about the tragedy that happened here in New York: A mom was holding her 6-month-old, posing for her husband to take a photo just outside the Central Park Zoo, when a tree branch fell killing the baby and seriously injuring the mom.


My piece, however, dwelt not on the tragedy nor the sadness, but on the fact that the father — understandably beside himself with grief — is preparing a lawsuit against the city. This, even though the branch was leafy and seemingly healthy, and the tree had been pruned in March and found sound.

A lot of readers jumped on me for being cold and callous for saying,  I guess starkly, that sometimes we forget that fate exists. Fate is fickle, cruel — well, actually, it doesn’t have any feelings at all. It’s just a word that tries to explain  that terrible things sometimes happen and no human is to blame. People hate hearing this, or at any rate aren’t used to it, and they find it more upsetting than finger-pointing. Or maybe I just put it all badly, and the readers thought I didn’t feel anything for the parents.

Anyway, there were two responses that I really appreciated that I am reprinting here. First, from a guy named Rob C:

….The point of Lenore’s article wasn’t, “Aww, yer babby was killed, suck it up”, it was that sometimes horrible things do happen, but these horrible things are not necessarily anyone’s fault.

How do you propose to prevent a terrible accident like this happening again? Fence off all the damn trees? Then wait for somebody to sue the city when they’re injured climbing a fence to go sit under a tree?”

And from Gever Tulley, author of the book,  50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do):

Topic #19 in Fifty Dangerous Things is “Stand on the Roof”, which encourages parents to help their kids get up on the roof of their house and have a look around. A reporter recently asked me “What do you say to the parent whose child fall off of the roof and dies?” – this is the trump card of the narrow-minded. It is the same end-move in the game of escalation that happens when talking to administrators about letting children ride bikes to school.

The truth is that there are more than 81 million children living in the United States at any given moment, and chance plays a part in their lives. Someone in California will get bitten by a shark, someone will get hit by a piece of debris that falls off of an airplane, someone will be struck by lightning – for any given individual, the chances are infinitesimal, but when you multiply even the tiniest number by 81 million and again by 12-14 hours of activity, the chance that someone, somewhere, will meet an untimely end in a seemingly random manner becomes non-zero. As a physicist once told me, everything that can happen, will happen, eventually.

My heart goes out the parents of the child killed by the falling branch, but if they had been walking in a National Park, or hanging out in their grandparents’ back yard would we think of the “blame” equation differently?

That’s it. Just trying to talk about a tough topic — fate — and having a hard time. — Lenore

When are we ever completely safe?

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66 Responses to If A Tree Falls…

  1. Anna July 13, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    “When are we ever completely safe?”…

    …when we are dead. Living a full, rich, interesting life involves some risk along the way. And it’s worth it.

  2. Meagan July 13, 2010 at 2:40 am #

    I think the word “fate” itself is a mistake. Fate implies forces beyond our control yes, but it also implies things happen for a reason, usually some large mystic, goddly, or possibly cosmic reason. Star-crosses lovers and such. Using the word fate is a bit like saying the tree fell because God hates you.

    Which is obviously the opposite of what you are saying. These RANDOM things happen for no reason at all and no one (or no god) is responsible. This is also WHY we can’t cope; if there were some fateful reason, it would all seem more within our control.

    I read the artical when you put it up on ParentDish, and it was beyon obvious from the context that “fate” wasn’t really what you were talking about. You were talking about “when bad things happen to good people for no reason at all” but I’m not sure there is a word for that, beyond “accident,” and that simply doesn’t seem a huge enough word.

  3. Jules July 13, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    Just a couple of summers ago, before we purchased our house, we lived in a duplex. The trees on the property were seriously dead: I was always picking up rotten twigs out of the garden and yard. Well, one day, I giant branch fell on both of our cars, shattering both windshields, and crushing the hood of my husband’s car. The amount of damage to my husband’s hood was $1300, and although we received a check for $800 from our car insurance, we have a $500 deductible. So, we were refered to our landlord’s home insurance to cover that.

    Do you know what they told us? That although it was obvious that the treee was dead, the landlord knew about it, and it all happened on his property it was an “act of God” and would not be covered. Their stand was that trees alive or dead can drop branches and it’s just an unfortunate thing that happens.

    My family and I had just come back for ice cream and were on our front stoop when it happened. We could have still been in my car (the branch came through my big van windshield and into the car, that’s why there was minimal damage to my own hood), so there certainly would have been some serious injuries. And I was the one who saw it all happen, because I was turning back to get something. Talk about a close call.

    So, yeah, it can happen. And even when the tree is known for dropping branches, it just falls under “shit happens”.
    We just took the $800 and put it towards buying my husband a new car. Once we moved. There are currently no trees near our driveway.

  4. MaeMae July 13, 2010 at 2:49 am #

    What a horrible thing to have happen. My heart goes out to that family.

  5. Bill Kracke July 13, 2010 at 3:00 am #


    When I first read about you & you kids, I applauded. The values behind “Free Ranging” are something I can totally agree with. What was unexpected, for me, was how hard it has been for me to implement. As an example, we let the kids sleep outside in a tent last night, without us. And I felt anxiety about it. I am hoping that frequent “risk-taking” will help me get beyond this.

    I think that there are two ideas behind my fears and responses: First, the idea most related to what you wrote, is that, in America, someone is always to blame. We are litigious to such a degree that we (gross over generalization, I know) believe that every “bad” thing deserves economic compensation. From spilling coffee, to using tools, to sitting in parks. The underlying idea is that this tragedy must be your fault, because it certainly wasn’t mine.

    The other concept that I have found in myself is the mistaken belief that I can control the universe (bear with me). I want my kids to be happy, healthy, and safe – just like most parents. But the truth, the reality, is what you have expressed: can I prevent airline parts falling from the sky, or meteors, or weather events, or anything, really? If someone decided that they wanted to harm my family, could I keep them out of a home with windows and doors that can be kicked in?

    Together, these ideas combine into a mess of fear and anxiety: can I make it so that nothing ever goes wrong in the life of my kids? And when something does go wrong, is there someone else I can blame?

    Personally, I see these fears as something I am unwilling to let control my life. But that doesn’t mean I am still not anxious about one day facing a tragedy and having to answer the question: Was there anything I could have done?

    Thanks for writing and helping me walk a different path. ( And the kids had a great time in the tent last night. )

  6. April July 13, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    I read the article and the first thing that came to my mind after reading about them taking all the merry-go-rounds was “I found a park that still has a merry-go-round”!! We were camping at Bear Run Campground (great place in Western PA) and my boys were all excited about the park. So, they are running to go play and I’m walking. I noticed that, of all the cool swings and slides, ALL the kids were on the merry go round, including the little 1 yr old who had toddled over. My 6 yo wanted to go really fast so he started pushing it around. It was so nice to see the man watch the toddler say something to my son (probably, ‘hey slow down, this one is still liittle’). My son did and no one got hurt. I was in shouting distance, but was still walking to the park. It was nice to know that the other adults there were willing to speak up.

  7. farrarwilliams July 13, 2010 at 3:02 am #

    I don’t usually watch the evening news, but I happened to be at my father’s and we watched it together. I missed your piece in ParentDish, but I made the exact same comment as I watched the news. They covered it as if it were a travesty of city tree planning or something. It’s a tragedy and my heart goes out to them. But I’m not sure that it’s newsworthy.

  8. Dot Khan July 13, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    Of course people sue the city or anything with money.
    Are they going to do something silly like sue The Almighty over an act of God? When a politician tried doing so, it was thrown out of court due to no address to send the papers to.

  9. Alison S. July 13, 2010 at 3:15 am #

    An 18-year-old… dived too sharply at a public lake and broke his neck. [His legal claim against the municipality was initially successful but] At the appellate level, the decision was overturned. … Permitting [his] claim would deny hundreds of thousands of people the enjoyment of the park. [The Court said,] “There is an important question of freedom at stake… Does the law require that all trees be cut down because some youth may climb them and fall?”

    — From Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, 2008, pages 142-143 (paperback).

    Let’s hope that a similar standard of common sense prevails in the Court that hears the case of this terrible but unpreventable accident.

  10. Rich Wilson July 13, 2010 at 3:21 am #

    There’s in interesting disconnect between our unwillingness to accept fate in the case of a tree branch falling, and our rush to assign fate in traffic collisions. How often do we hear about ‘traffic accidents’ which involve speeding, use of a cell phone, drinking, or other things that could reliably predict a collision?

  11. Big Mac July 13, 2010 at 3:23 am #

    Lawsuits fall into three main categories:
    A) The people being sued actually are at fault. A friend of mine got a kitten from the pound last year. Before they let you take home any animals, they have to be fixed and the resident vet or whatever has to do be the one to do it. My friend actually asked if they could bring in another vet that he trusted and they said no, our man has to do it. Well, they did it, and it turned out that the vet had had problems in the past and had accidentally punctured the kitten’s intestine, and had then tried to fix it but had done a sloppy job (and didn’t tell my friend about it). I don’t know the rest in great detail, but apparently my friend had two options: get it fixed for a steep price, or leave it as it was (obviously not a good idea) at the expense of the cat. He tried to get the money from the pound – just enough to pay the bill that THEY caused. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.
    B) It’s no one’s fault. See this article.
    C) The people suing are at least as much at fault as the people they are suing. See this tragic story: http://www.scpr.org/news/2010/03/11/club-settles-in-childs-uzi-death-at-gun-fair/
    I feel for the family. I really do. But they contributed to their son’s death in a major way. And yet: “Still pending is a $4 million federal lawsuit the boy’s family has filed against the club, the event’s promoters and those who supplied the weapon and ammunition.”

    So why do we have B and C when we should only have A, and even that should be used sparingly?

  12. wellcraftedtoo July 13, 2010 at 3:30 am #

    No question about it: shit happens. And sometimes with really nasty consequences.

    My son’s classmate fell to his death a few months ago…a few years ago, a entire tree fell on my husband’s car, totaling it and nearly killing him (he was speedily compensated by the tree pruning company which had flagged him through the work zone)…a few years ago, a child in my town died when a tree branch fell on her during a storm in the state park she and her parents were camping in.

    In none of these cases, were suits filed. Law suits occur most often when two factors converge: a wrong causing serious damage has occurred that appears preventible, and the person, or persons, responsible appear uncaring or callous.

    Studies of doctors and malpractice reveal that doctors who are caring and involved with their patients can, and do, sometimes make mistakes that inflict damage on patients, yet not be sued. But docs who are, or who appear to be, cavalier and unfeeling (cold doctors, be forewarned!) are at much higher risk of lawsuits should they make a mistake and harm a patient.

    Then there is a more nebulous factor in explaining lawsuits, and that is the general sense–addressed above–that “injuries should never happen” and “SOMEONE must be held responsible, and financially too”. I think this is a kind of control madness, the sad belief that we can control life to such a degree that accidents, illness, loss, and death will not occur. Lawyers can, and do, play into this to some degree, but lawyers do not bring lawsuits that plaintiffs do not want.

    The accident that happened outside Central Park Zoo is very sad, and also so unusual as to be nearly freakish. No lawsuit will bring the baby back. I wonder how a parent so recently bereaved can possibly think clearly enough to have consulted with an attorney, and made the decision to sue. One can’t help but wonder how large a role friends, relatives, and the lawyer played in this decision.

  13. LauraL July 13, 2010 at 3:32 am #

    there was a bumper sticker once upon a time that said, “SH*T happens”. I say it – sort of – to my kids. Hey, sometimes stuff happens, it’s no one’s fault, pick up the piece, you gotta move on. Dwelling on it changes nothing.

  14. bushidoka July 13, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    I’m with you 100% Lenore. It is not necessarily easy to point this out to someone grieving for the loss of their infant child, but someone has to do it. The lawsuit sure seems frivilous to me – I hope it gets thrown out of court.

  15. Welmoed July 13, 2010 at 4:08 am #

    About ten years ago, I was hit by a car while bicycling. I had hit a patch of loose gravel on the shoulder (left by some construction work) and it threw me into the path of an oncoming car. I was shook up and had a scraped elbow, but otherwise wasn’t hurt. The next day, the driver’s insurance company called me to ask about damages. I told them I wasn’t hurt, my bike was fine, and I considered the matter closed. He was astonished. I told him I viewed the incident as a true accident; neither of us was at fault.
    Several friends chided me for not taking advantage of the situation by claiming damages. “You could have gotten a new bike out of the deal!” I know others might see it that way, but to me it would be completely unethical and just plain wrong.

  16. Nanny Expert July 13, 2010 at 4:26 am #

    I have no problem with the father pursuing a lawsuit in this case. This should lead to an investigation and a fact-based decision regarding the zoo’s liability, if any. If the tree was recently pruned and checked, then the zoo should not be found liable – but why not let a court decide?

    I do not think it is “over the top” to require parks and zoos to take steps to ensure the safety of trees that overhang pedestrian areas. Yes, some accidents are unpreventable, but others can be avoided with appropriate precautions. In public areas with lots of kids, it makes sense to err on the side of caution.

  17. Jennifer Jo July 13, 2010 at 4:50 am #

    I think it’s a fear issue. People are afraid of bad things happening, things they have no control over. By pointing fingers, placing blame, they feel, incorrectly, that they gain control. We all do it on different levels. The serenity prayer presents the balance we so desperately need:

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

  18. Eric July 13, 2010 at 5:05 am #

    I don’t think Lenore was trying to be insensitive. She is right though, somethings are just beyond our control.

    People grieve differently, some break down to the point of irrationality. Some reports say that the park has had incidences in the park with falling, old branches before. But other reports also say that the particular tree was healthy and intact. No one is really to blame, but to a grieving father wondering “why?”, that would be unacceptable. “Someone” has to pay. Doesn’t make him a bad person, it makes him human.

    Although I don’t think the lawsuit is substantiated, it is understandable given his state of mind.

  19. Byron July 13, 2010 at 5:07 am #

    “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoidance of danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

    — Helen Keller, The Open Door, 1902

  20. Peter Brülls July 13, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    The “just universe”-fallacy strikes again.

  21. Eric July 13, 2010 at 5:13 am #

    Kudos to Welmoed. A similar situation hit me as well (literally). I could have argued that the driver wasn’t paying attention, maybe talking on his cellphone. Except for a bruised thigh, I came out unscathed (someone likes me upstairs). Their was actually more damage to the car than me. According to the police report it was about $2000, front end was caved in.

    I’m sure it was both our fault, him not paying attention, me jay walking between stopped cars waiting for the light to change. But because I wasn’t injured, I just counted myself lucky to be alive, and considered the matter closed. Like you said, it’s unethical. Unfortunately, it seems more and more people are are becoming unethical. Opportunistic. Not implying that the father of the subject at hand is such.

  22. alan July 13, 2010 at 5:50 am #

    Blame = holding someone else responsible for responsibilities we have abdicated. Sueing anyone not holding a chainsaw for damages from a falling branch is a perfect example of how we have pawned off all the responsibility of living onto others, and then rant abou them when they don’t hold our needs above all others. If the dad really wants to make a difference he should put his energy and money (this kind of litigation cant be cheep…) into funding more arborists to ensure we have more healty trees in our parks and public spaces.

    Death is there in every breath for each of us. Our responsibility is to live each moment to it’s fullest.

  23. Blake July 13, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. In this case, that can be amended to “never attribute to malice that which has nothing to be attributed to it.” Bad things happen, and you’ll be much happier if you go through life thinking that most of the time, those bad things aren’t anyone’s fault. 99.9% of people in this world do not have anyone after them or wishing them harm personally.

    Too many people today have a victim mentality these days. I swear, everything is someone else’s fault. Tree falls on you? The city’s fault. Accidentally spill coffee on yourself after tampering with the lid? Restaurant’s fault.

    When I was at Montana State, a girl ran into me as I was leaving the parking lot (she pulled out very quickly). My rear passenger-side door was a little dented, and her bumper was a little screwed up, but no one was hurt. We said “sorry”, and the matter was quickly dropped. Got the dent mostly out of my car, I’m sure her car was fine. Didn’t even require me to take it to a repair place.

    Just to reply to the story of the kid with an Uzi, both the parents and club are indeed at fault for that one. Letting such a small child handle an automatic weapon is at best careless (I think we know the “at worst” scenario). A kid like that shouldn’t be shooting anything automatic unless they’ve been raised in Africa or the Middle East, or anywhere else where an AK is incorporated into a coming of age ceremony. If you allow them to shoot an automatic weapon, make sure it’s set for semi-automatic.

  24. Karli July 13, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    I love what @Meagan (2nd comment) had to say. I think she explained the semantics beautifully. I also agree with other commenters who say that our country always needs to have SOMEONE (anyone) to blame for everything.

    One thought I’ve been having a lot lately is, I wonder how much this mindset is tied to our culture’s slow movement away from religion. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that everyone should or should not believe in a certain way, so hear me out.

    When the country was founded, we believed that we had certain God-given rights that were inalienable. That meant that these rights came from God alone and therefore could not be revoked. So, if we don’t believe in God, where do we get these “rights”? Could it then follow that these rights are simply given from man/government and could therefore just as easily be taken away?

    Similarly, as our belief in a higher power wanes, we no longer can look heavenward for answers or reasons. There are no more “acts of God,” and you can’t blame someone in whom you don’t even believe. Instead everything must have a reason, and more importantly someone who “caused” it, someone to hold responsible. I think as humans are brains are wired such as to avoid the idea of “random.” We crave order, we crave reason, and if there’s not an omnipotent being in charge, we still need to find a reason. Otherwise, our brains go into chaos, trying to get a grip that everything is completely “random”.

    Again, I am not trying to comment on what should or should not be, but just alluding to a possible reason that this “blame someone” mentality continues to persist.

  25. Alana D. July 13, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    Just discovered this blog through Sandra & Woo, and wanted to say that I love this idea. I’m 16, and grew up with lenient but concerned parents. Thanks to them, I’ve made my own mistakes, and thoroughly learned my lessons through first hand experience. I really feel that raising a kid ‘free-range’ teaches them the consequences of not saying “no”, and shows them the benefits of saying “yes”. I’ve had all sorts of amazing experiences, and all the cuts and scars I need to prove it.

    Thanks for spreading the word!
    -Alana D.

  26. Steve July 13, 2010 at 7:09 am #

    It’s only natural for caring people to feel appalled by the falling branch incident. I know I was. And when I first read about it, I did a Google search to see how often similar tragedies occur. While I didn’t find stats, I did find other stories. One told of a teenage girl in a state park sleeping in a tent over 30 feet from a tree. She was killed by a falling branch over 50 feet long. And a week before the Central Park branch fell, a storm blew a tree down in one of the state parks not far from us and killed a man.

    The other comments here do a good job of examining Lenore’s main point about accidents and the fact that you can’t protect yourself against everything in Life.

    Related to such tragedies is how to find some sense of peace and calm in the face of adversity. There are many avenues. One, of course is asking God for guidance and strength. But most people don’t realize there are several methods in the category of “Energy Psychology” that can actually relieve PTSD or grief, or other negative emotions, in a “very short time” – and I’m talking really short – sometimes within a couple hours – sometimes after only 20 minutes, or even 10! Of course the results depend on a number of variables.

    One of the more popular methods is called Emotional Freedom Techniques, best known as EFT. If you click my name, you can see some videos of EFT in action. The clip about war veterans being relieved of their PTSD demonstrates how effective the technique can be.

  27. pebblekeeper July 13, 2010 at 7:09 am #

    We live in the Pacific Northwest – Forest Everywhere. We call those branches Widow Makers. We are trained to look up when walking in the forest.

    Hmmm. But I never thought about Widow Makers being the fault of BLM. . . . . I’ll know what to do if it happens to our family.

    – And A shout out of Condolences to the Husband and Father – Even in our quick quips and “right and wrongs” of actions – loss is horrible.

  28. Penni Russon July 13, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    Wow, what a horribly tragic story all round. I can utterly empathise with his rage and despair, his sense of powerlessness, his urge to fight and to blame.

    But litigation really is the worst of humanity. It is one thing to instigate an investigation and to try and prevent a preventable incident from happening again. It is another thing to look for a correlation between human loss and financial gain.

    I am convinced litigation is what lies at the heart of the helicopter West – this constant question of who is to blame, would you ever forgive yourself if…the strange false connections between cause and effect…

    I am not religious in the least but I was fascinated by @karli’s reflections.

  29. Larry Harrison July 13, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Lenore, let me say–what an outstanding post. You really hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t agree more–25-30 odd years ago, if a child got away from a parent’s reach temporarily, people would have a helpfulness mentality. Now, it’s like you said–why weren’t you holding them tightly? Even for petty things like that, no one seems to want to hear “it just happened, we’re okay now.” They want to make it out as an “official incident” of sorts. It’s ridiculous.

    When I saw where you went with it, where you suggested the park management could cut down all the trees & replace it with grass, but then someone would slip on the wet grass & become injured, and that it just never stops from there–that is exactly the sort of thing I tell people all the time. Alas, it seems no one accepts that point of view, to them it’s laziness.

    You keep telling it, Lenore.

  30. Donna July 13, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    @ Karli – I disagree. I’m an atheist and yet believe totally in fate and sometimes bad sh^t happens. And I actually find the more religious people equally as likely to look for someone to blame as others.

    I believe that the blame everything on someone is just society feeding off of itself. A few things occur in which the media legitimately asks “who’s at fault here?” Pretty soon people starts asking that every time something occurs. Then it spirals out of control until someone is to blame for everything and every accident is a crime.

    As for the lawsuit in this case, I actually don’t think it’s a bad idea. There is reason to question what happened here. Perfectly healthy tree limbs don’t usually just spontaneously fall off of perfectly healthy trees. A lawsuit is the only way to get those answers. The city is not just going to open up it’s records and surrender the tree limb for experts to look at unless forced. If it turns out to simply be random bad luck, we’ll know. If it turns out that the tree limb was damaged and the city knew and didn’t cut it down, we’ll know that to.

    I’m also not opposed to lawsuits when not hurt. My car got hit by a high driver. Luckily we were not injured. I expect to be compensated, not just for the car, but also for my time and hassle – and there was considerable hassle due to this accident (Progressive Ins. sucks). Maybe I just feel this way because this was so not an accident and caused solely by a person getting into the car under the influence of illegal drugs and the fact that it is really just luck that my daughter is not dead due to her stupidity (brought home by a very similar wreck – minus the drugs – last week in which a toddler was killed).

    I do think that if there is no damage to you then there should be no claim. This is actually the first car accident that I’ve ever had where I pursued something other than repairs to the car because this is the first time that I’ve had to deal with such a royal hassle after a car wreck. This is also the first time when the accident wasn’t a result of just common carelessness that everyone is occasionally guilty of but a criminal act.

  31. Mrs Embers July 13, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    I hadn’t heard this story- such a horrible tragedy. My heart breaks for those parents. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. I agree that a lawsuit is pointless; I imagine it partly comes from someone desperately wanting to make sense out of the situation, but there just isn’t any 🙁

    Has anyone heard the mom being blamed for standing there yet? I would be very surprised if no one’s said it. It’s COMPLETELY idiotic, and it pisses me off, but any time a tragedy occurs involving a child, someone will find a way to blame the parents (especially the mom). Just thinking about it is making me mad.

  32. Lihtox July 13, 2010 at 10:51 am #

    This isn’t about parenting per se, but I wonder if this need to blame something/somebody is a cause of the rise of road rage and its cousins which we’ve heard about. For example, if I’m at the grocery store, in a hurry to checkout, and the person in front of me is moving very slowly for some reason, it is only natural that I should feel *frustrated*; there’s nothing wrong with that. But too often I feel the need to blame the other person for my frustration, and so I get angry at them, which makes me feel worse and might make me lash out at the person in front of me. Better to blame fate: “I am pissed off that I ended up stuck behind this slow person. Stupid fate!”

  33. Jane July 13, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Gever Tulley raises an interesting question. What if they had been standing in their own front yard taking a picture- would they be suing their landscaper or their homeowner’s association? What if they were hiking on a trail in the woods- would they sue the nature reserve?

    I think people like to think that we do, and should, have control over everything. But the fact is, even inside a man-made park, trees are natural objects, beyond human control. If it was a beam that fell off of a city building, I could see their side. But plants (and animals, while we’re at it) are unpredictable.

  34. This girl loves to Talk July 13, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    I feel for that family. How heartbreaking. I would be devastated. It sometimes feels worse when you don’t have a person or accident to blame.

    On the roof climbing thing, I am so glad that we do this. OUR 7 year old LOVES TO climb on the roof. One day I was sititing feeding the baby and about to go to school and she is up on the apex of the roof sitting enjoying. Now we only let her climb up with her dad but yesterday her and a friend climbed up there twice!

    the absolutely love it and my 3 year old is always saying when I’m 5 I can go on the roof, I can’t wait!

    ha hahaha.

  35. Benjamin Bankruptcy July 13, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    It’s absolutely horrible but I mean come on!!! Guess what tree branches fall. You can’t remove risk entirely it’s impossible. What would he like to happen for all the trees to be cut down?

    I was in our local park years ago and the counsil was cutting down this great tree when I asked why they said a kid had climbed it and fallen out and broken his arm and the mother had complained. Complained about what? That her son obviously need more practice climbing trees?

  36. SKL July 13, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    I saw one article about this story – maybe there were others – where the writer went all “OMG OMG OMG we are never safe what do we need to do OMG OMG.” I think the point is that here on Earth, we have to allow some margin of unpredictability, i.e., risk. Just because it is impossible to know exactly what will befall us when we walk out our door, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk out our door. People need to get educated and learn to take calculated risks. And yes, some people will randomly get hurt. But, that happens to people who are sitting in their own homes, too.

    Sometimes we say that too much knowledge of “all the bad things that can happen” is a problem. I personally think our problem is that people have forgotten how to think critically, e.g., apply logic to the statistics and act reasonably.

    I cringe every time I hear someone say “what if it was your child who . . . ?”

  37. Lori July 13, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    I really like Megan’s comment. Eric also touches on dealing with grief, which I think is so important. It was through that particular piece on ParentDish that I found Lenore’s blog. I’ve read through a lot of the archives and I really like her philosophy and sense of humor. Yet, I didn’t care for her piece at ParentDish. Perhaps b/c the situation was so tragic, perhaps I am one of those people who prefers “finger pointing,” or maybe I’m just somewhere in between. Bad things happen, for sure. That’s just part of life. But, there’s a time, a place and a way of stating it. I think this post does a lot better job of getting your incredibly valid point across, versus the one on ParentDish.

  38. Jen C July 13, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    I remember when I was about 10 or 11, my mom was babysitting our neighbor’s two small children while their mom was hosting a party or meeting or something. While mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner (in an apartment, and she could see straight into the living room), the little girl, who was 3 or 4, started jumping on the couch. My mom immediately told her to stop, and the instant the sentence came out of her mouth, the girl fell and split her forehead open on the coffee table.

    The girl’s mom was upset, naturally, and we drove them to the hospital. After a few stitches, Lily ended up just fine. Her mother never once blamed my mom for the accident, and actually apologized to mom!

    Where has society gone wrong? The first definition listed in the Merriam Webster dictionary for accident is: “1 a : an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance b : lack of intention or necessity : chance “. Why don’t we understand this very simple concept anymore?

  39. SgtMom July 13, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    We have eschewed ” God Almighty” for “Mother Almighty” – and if all the caution and precautions in the world don’t prevent disaster from happening , lawsuits will.

  40. DMT July 13, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    A few weeks ago, a 15-year-old boy was killed in my city when a large slab of concrete fell from inside a parking garage. I do not know if the family is preparing a lawsuit, but to be honest I hope they are because there is a question of whether the city deferred necessary maintenance on our public buildings to save a few bucks. If they did, then they should be held liable.

    That’s why I have mixed feelings on this issue. I do understand the point that sometimes accidents happen. Not everything can be prevented, and yes, sometimes it is beyond our control. But sometimes through lawsuits, blame IS found. That’s why I’m kind of agreeing with Nanny Expert above: why not let the courts decide? What guidelines do we use to determine what is preventable and what isn’t?

  41. Tara July 13, 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    We should definitely cut down all the trees and install a squishy surface for people to walk around on. What sort of primitive world are we living in anyway? Yes, I feel awful for that terrible accident, but it was an accident. It’s not the city’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault.

  42. Douglas John Bowen July 13, 2010 at 9:59 pm #

    Lenore has my understanding and (if she needed it) sympathy. I got the same “you’re so cruel” response when, in perhaps an ungracious move, I challenged my hostess’ belief that “every tree in Central Park should be chopped down” because “there’s nothing more important than safety.” I’m quoting those words; I’m not making them up.
    Hardly believing what I was hearing, I asked for clarification, and my hostess was adept enough to offer one. Replant the park with “new” trees, which I interpreted to mean “stick” trees; hard to be felled by a stick, I guess. My wife, trying to find a middle ground, tried to point out the numerous advantages mature trees offer people (shade, oxygen, eco-variety). No go: Safety mattered most.
    At which point I indelicately asked just when our hostess was planning to stop driving her children anywhere, due to the inherent risk of death by auto–measurably higher than falling tree limbs. The silence was deafening (and a bit awkward, I’ll acknowledge–but I’m not sorry I brought it up).

  43. Beanie July 13, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    Lenore, as you might expect, I have a bit of perspective about this sort of thing.

    As humans, we hate to feel powerless. We have been handed this myth — and it is a myth — from an early age that says, “someone (human) is in control of everything that happens here on Earth”.

    It simply isn’t true. Things happen. No one is in control of everything. No one is to blame for a lightning strike. Or a branch that falls. Or a heart that suddenly and inexplicably stops beating. But these things happen. And as humans, who have been taught the myth, it seems inconceivable that no one has the power to stop it. Some people cannot accept this, so they try, in desperation, to take control of the uncontrollable through things like law suits.

    It’s a very sad thing, really. My heart goes out to that man and his mis-placed grief. He’s not stupid. He’s not malicious. He’s just grieving.

  44. Karen July 13, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    I was sitting in my office last week when I heard a great WOOSH and saw a flash of green go by my window. I went outside to investigate and saw that a medium sized tree limb had fallen from a tall tree a few yards away. When I pointed it out to our custodian he said “Summer Limb Drop”. I’d never heard of this, but it is an apparently well known phenomenon of healthy trees suddenly dropping limbs in mid to late summer. It is not completely understood, but there is a theory that it occurs due to moisture fluxuations in the tree in hot, dry weather. Google it and it comes up in landscaping and arborist sites–nothing on potential lawsuits, though.

  45. Lihtox July 13, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    @Beanie: You don’t have to become an atheist to learn to accept the bad things in life, as you imply. That old saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” was invented by religious people who sought to explain bad things happening with no apparent cause. The difference between the two positions is philosophical, not practical.

  46. mvb July 13, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    I just read this and now I’m going to leave work immediately to run home and cut down all the trees around my house (I’m in the woods). The wildlife can just go elsewhere, thank you very much. But first I need to stop by daycare and put fresh bubble wrap on my son.

  47. Rich Wilson July 13, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    @Donna You illustrated my point on the word ‘accident’. Check back for it if you missed it.

    @Douglas John Bowen I have a recent rule: Never apologize for something you mean to say. I never say “I’m sorry but…” Either you feel it’s true and is important enough that it needs to be said regardless of the offense, or it isn’t. We have the right to free speech (at least most of us reading this) but we do not have the right to not be offended. No sense in being rude of course, but I think the truth trumps offense.

    For the record, I would have called out the dumb ‘cut all the trees’ comment too.

  48. SKL July 13, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    I think another underlying problem is that when a freak accident happens, people don’t just say “oh, how horrible for that family.” They quickly switch to “how might this be horrible for me?” We have a strong tendency to make everything “about me.” Not sure if this is a recent trend or if it’s always been human nature.

  49. jim July 14, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    Further proof that gravity is a hoax. This planet sucks, and we should sue whoever is behind the design flaw.

  50. Holby July 14, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    Lenore…thank you for voicing a truth so fearlessly. It seems in the age of political correctness we have now placed a moratorium on the truth if it is not particularly palatable.

    @rich wilson: “Either you feel it’s true and is important enough that it needs to be said regardless of the offense, or it isn’t.” ~ This is absolutely brilliant!

  51. mvb July 14, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    @SKL — i don’t think it’s a trend, I think it’s human nature, pure and simple. My comment above about cutting down my trees is only, say ,90% joking. There certainly is a part of my brain that thought, upon hearing the story, “OMG, this could happen in my own backyard! It never occurred to me, I better be more careful OMG OMG”. Then I took a deep breath, thought about how i’ve always lived “among the trees’ and have never heard of such a thing happening…. so the trees can stay. for now….

    But I think that’s the point Lenore makes… We all need to take that pause and breathe a little more sanity into our lives before panicking.

  52. Michele July 14, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    So well stated, Lenore. As usual, thank you for being the voice of reason even when there is an elephant in the room.

  53. Beanie July 14, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    @Lihtox: You mis-interpret my comment. I am Christian. But I do not believe that God, or fate, or any pre-destination kills our loved ones. Biology, accidents, gravity…those things kill our loved ones. God steps in to help guide us to grow as we react to our losses.

    My point was that many humans do not ascribe acts to God, or to gravity, or to biology…to them, nothing happens in this world without a human influence. Right or wrong, they cannot accept human frailty and powerlessness. That was my point.

  54. SgtMom July 14, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    Well, Beanie – I am one who DOES ascribe to God, fate and pre-destination.

    You may dismiss things like the recent no survivor airline crash in South America, where a woman who was late and missed the flight ended up killed in an auto accident while driving home from the airport as mere coinsidence or superstition.

    But I don’t.

    Your realm of experience may be that God is just the mop up guy after the fact – but my experience has been “he” has a strong hand in such events.

  55. Rich Wilson July 14, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    So why did God make her miss her plane? Did someone pray for her and earn her an extra couple of hours of life?

    (I tried really hard to bite my fingers. Just. Can’t. Do. It.)

  56. Lihtox July 15, 2010 at 2:30 am #

    @Beanie: You’re right, I completely misread your post. Having actually read it now, I agree with you totally. My apologies.

  57. Lihtox July 15, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    @SgtMom: This might not be the best place for a debate on predestination.

    @RichWilson: Try harder next time; online religious debates are terribly tedious. 🙂

  58. Jacob Hugart July 15, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    I recently finished a book entitled _The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives_. It notes many things that you would probably find applicable to free-range kids.

    One deals with the subject of control. The idea goes that if events are random, we have no control; contrariwise, if we have control, events will not be random. This truly isn’t the case, though, and random events still occur in spite of our believed control. People don’t like it, but studies suggest that our stress levels decrease when we believe we have some control, even in areas that are inconsequential.

    Parenting is the ultimate conflict: We have responsibility for someone else’s life (and, thus, the obligation of control to preserve that life), while at the same time we are exposed to more randomness and unpredictability than we may previously had known (excepting, of course, our own behavior as small children). Acceptance of the lack of control over many areas of our children’s lives is not easily swallowed. We like to think that the more we are involved, observant, planning, etc., the more control we will have and the safer our children will be.

    This is an illusion.

    Our obligation is to raise our children in order for them to function in society as independent adults, capable of learning and growing on their own, without us. Isolating them from reality doesn’t make reality safer. Rapunzel eventually had to leave her tower. Part of being a parent is teaching your child as best you can how to deal with the world, and all its dangers…and then standing back so they can face it on their own.

    Extremes are ridiculous, of course: One doesn’t send a two-year-old to get milk, but a twenty-year-old should know how to do his own laundry and cooking. Our job is to go from A to B so the child can survive without us. Realizing that random events are still possible — and with a large enough population, even certain — is one of those things we must face.

  59. Jessika July 16, 2010 at 2:15 am #

    This is indeed very tragic.
    When struck by tragedy – I became very sick a few years ago in an autoimmune condition which has hence gone into progression. I lost myself to the labyrinth of asking existential questions. Why me? Why now? Why so grave? I had just established a career, now I was almost totally disabled. I had my fights with life over why what and how. I raged, was infuriated. But there was no one to blame. Evenually I settled into a variant of acceptance.
    The father’s reaction is to sue. But terrible things do happen in life and there’s noone to blame for it. Rage is rational in all it’s irrationality. I wish there were better services to be provided rather than call a lawyer for the litigation department.

  60. hannah July 16, 2010 at 3:31 am #

    A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for~John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic (1928)

    rage, anger at the loss of a child is normal. the expression of that anger is what varies. the self blame that one experiences is a part of that. the desire to shift the blame is not universal. in fact those of us with perhaps a valid reason for wrongful death suit do not persue it because of self blame. one can blame oneself for the myriad of choices good or bad we make from conception.

    i hope that the father will change his mind, and he might after he gets over the initial heartbreak.

  61. SgtMom July 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Lihtox, on July 15, 2010 at 2:33 am Said:
    @SgtMom: This might not be the best place for a debate on predestination.

    Lihtox. Who died and named you hall monitor?


  62. Rich Wilson July 17, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    yul hav 2 excuz my typng my fingrs r al gon so i hav 2 us my nos

  63. Lihtox July 17, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    @SgtMom: The previous HallMonitor died, of course; I slayed him in single combat. There Can Be Only One.

    But seriously, there’s a difference between friendly advice and ordering around; no hall monitor in my experience ever said “You might consider not running through the halls.”

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    If you have insurance, you are eligible to receive up to the maximum insurable amount stated in your insurance policy. Unfortunately, insurance companies try to save money on your own when possible, so the collection of insurance after an accident has occurred can be stressful.
    I hope you have been monitoring the maintenance of your vehicle, if so, please send copies of insurance company records maintenance.
    If after providing such evidence, the insurance company does not cooperate, you may consider useful research papers written about property damage and insurance claims.

  65. Jahn Ghalt July 20, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    Kudos to Lenore for being “cold” and “calloused” – something which one would pray the judge is if/when the Dad/Husband pursues the lawsuit.

    How much more unusual (and manful) it would be were Dad to focus on his still alive wife and move on.

    I see this blog has more comment life in it, than the ParentDish article so I added two (belatedly) of my own:

    #22 Jahn Ghalt 7-19-2010 @ 8:16PM

    In comment 6, “T” said:

    “Should these poor folks have to take out a loan to pay for the funeral/burial of their child who was killed (by an accident) on city property?”

    I recommend cremation – since it costs less, and not suing, since Attorney’s at $200+/hour will soon overwhelm cremation costs.

    Finally, I would suggest they go make another baby – after mom recuperates.

    #23 Jahn Ghalt 7-19-2010 @ 8:26PM

    Comment #22, angelina said:

    “It is because of these unforeseen accidents that the city, and home owners, carry insurance. Not to mention that he is within his rights to pursue this course of action should he be inclined to do so.”

    No doubt, illegitimate suits are within ones “rights”, but that don’t make it right. I would rather that first plaintiff’s attorneys, then judges, then juries would consider that mischance (Skenazy calls it fate) is NOT something that we must all collectively pay for. Insurance companies are not the ultimate payors – the insured are.

    As for the City of New York, if they, like my hometown, self-insure, then all from whom the city takes taxes will ultimately pay.

    Better to start an aid fund – then monies paid would by voluntary, rather than coercive as through taxation and/or the courts.


    Hmmm, I see that my comment #22 was pretty calloused. Too bad I’m not the judge.

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