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Struck by 16-Pound Pine Cone, Lawsuit Seeks $5 Million

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 14, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a pine cone. And it may have caused brain damage, according to a lawsuit filed in San Francisco this week.

A Navy veteran is suing the US government and others for negligence after a giant pine cone fell from a tree at the San Francisco Maritime National Park and crushed his skull last year.

Sounds Silly, but It's Serious

At first glance, the lawsuit seems silly. But it is serious. Sean Mace, in his fifties, was pummeled by the pine cone during a visit to the Bay Area during last year's Fleet Week. He was relaxing under a tree when the 16-pound seed pod fell on his head.

Following the incident, Mace has undergone two brain surgeries. In addition to seeking $5 million in damages and medical expenses, his lawsuit also seeks to changes to park policies. The park has made some changes to improve safety.

When he visited the national park last year, there were no warning signs, Mace's suit states. The giant pod that fell on him came from a non-native tree planted by park authorities. Park policy mandates that exotic species that create safety hazards be removed and that there also be fences, netting, or signage warning of dangers.

Now these safeguards have been implemented, reports SFGate. The new signs warn reads, "Danger -- Giant seed pod falling from tree." Orange fences have also been erected around the tree grove.

Is More Than a Warning Needed?

Although the park has made some moves to address Mace's concern about the dangers to visitors, the fences and signs may not suffice. Joe Barlow, a street artist who paints near the grove, said he's seen the cones fall dangerously close to tourists.

"And it's not just the size of them either. They're big, but they're really heavy and they have these spikes on the outside like a pineapple," Barlow told SFGate.

Mace's Recovery

When the giant seed pod hit Mace on the head, he was snoozing. His court filing reports that he was immediately rushed to San Francisco General Hospital, where he underwent surgery to relieve pressure on the brain from internal bleeding.

He suffered traumatic brain injury and has suffered severe and likely irreversible cognitive defects, according to Scott Johnson, the San Francisco attorney representing Mace. "He's afraid to go outside at this point because he's afraid something is going to hit him in the head," Johnson said. "Our priority is to institute change and help this guy out."

Apart from the U.S. Government, the suit also names the National Park Service and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park as defendants.

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