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Man Sues San Francisco Park after Giant Pine Cone Crushes His Skull

Navy veteran Sean Mace is suing a California national park for $5 million after his skull was crushed in a freak accident. A giant pine cone apparently fell out of a tree and hit him on the head, causing serious, life-altering injuries.

The incident occurred last October at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where Mace was reading a book under a grove of coniferous Araucaria bidwillii trees. He had been waiting to watch a Blue Angels air show when a 16-pound pine cone dropped from a tree and smashed his skull, knocking him unconscious. Mace suffered severe swelling and a brain hemorrhage.

He was immediately rushed to San Francisco General Hospital, where he underwent two emergency surgeries to relieve the pressure on his brain. A part of his skull had to be removed during surgery, in order to save his life. He now suffers from permanent brain damage, memory loss, depression, and ‘a tremendous degree of anxiety’. He cannot get a job, while he still has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. And he still has to get a third operation.

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Photo: Imgur

So Mace, 50, is suing the United States Government, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, and the San Francisco national park for $5million.

“This guy has an irreversible brain injury,” said Scott Johnson, Mace’s attorney. “He’s in constant fear of getting hit on the head. It’s like a bowling ball falling from the sky and hitting you on the head.” He added that there were no warning signs in the park about falling pine cones, and that officials should have informed visitors of the dangers involved in resting under trees.

freak-accident

Photo: NBC Bay Area

The trees, also known as bunya pines, or false monkey puzzle trees, are not native to San Francisco. They were planted by park staff many decades ago. Their seed pods (or pines) can grow up to 35 centimeters in diameter and over 40 pounds in weight. The one that fell on Mace’s head was a 16-pounder.

Johnson filed the lawsuit on Mace’s behalf in September this year, citing dangerous conditions of public property and negligence. “First and foremost, the Park Service needs to do something to make sure this never happens again,” he said. “This park is full of tourists and schoolchildren. Something needs to change.”

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Photo: Permaculture Research Institute

Park officials have now fenced off the grove, and added signs that warn: “Danger: Giant seed pod falling from tree.” But according to street artist Joe Barlow, the ginormous pine cones do fall from branches that hang over the sidewalk outside the fencing. One time, a cone landed dangerously close to tourists. “It just missed them,” he said. “And it’s not just the size of them either. They’re big, but they’re really heavy and have these spikes on the outside like a pineapple.”

Mace currently lives in Washington, where he’s being cared for by his family.

Sources: SF Gate, NBC Bay Area