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Family of Toddler Injured by Falling Tree Branch on Campus Sues Menlo College

ATHERTON (KPIX) -- The family of a toddler who was seriously injured when part of a massive oak tree crashed onto her on the Menlo College campus last year filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the school.

Zealyn Garcia was two years old in August 2017 when she and her parents, Christopher and Jasmine Garcia, attended a company picnic at Menlo College.

Jasmine and Zealyn were standing near one of several large heritage oak trees on the college quad when a large branch about 50 feet long and several feet thick in some places, fell onto them both, knocking Zealyn unconscious.

Christopher rushed to his daughter's side.

"She was face down," he said. "I picked her up. She was ... lifeless. She was either unconscious or -- I really thought she was dead."

Zealyn was hospitalized with a fractured skull, a concussion and lacerations to her eyelid.

Jasmine broke her toe and sprained her hand. Her body was covered in scars. At the time, Jasmine was pregnant with her now-infant son and she feared the worst.

"The worst thought was 'I'd probably have a miscarriage' because of what happened," she said.

Two other women, Julie Dale and Jodi Cohen, were also near the tree and were seriously injured.

A year and a half after the incident, Zealyn is still healing, some of her scars still visible on her face.

The Garcias worry that she could suffer permanent brain damage down the road. They have filed a lawsuit against Menlo College claiming the tree "had numerous, obvious signs that a failure was imminent," including "visible decay, cracks, bacterial infection, wounds, stress fractures, and callouses," signs that Menlo College "missed" or "ignored."

"This incident was entirely preventable had Menlo College fulfilled its legal, non-delegable duty to inspect their trees, to maintain their trees in a safe condition," said attorney Rowena Seto of the Seto Medina Law Group.

Seto, who is representing the Garcias, says Menlo College destroyed the tree after the incident, suppressing valuable evidence but not before an arborist examined it.

"[The college's] own arborist found that the tree bough had actually begun failing long before it actually came crashing to the ground," said Seto.

KPIX reached out to Menlo College and to an attorney representing the school for comment but neither returned calls.

The Garcias said they hope to receive an apology from the college.

Christopher and Jasmine said they still worry about Zealyn's health and whether she will suffer any long-term brain damage from the incident.

"I worry that she won't grow up to have the normal life that she was supposed to have without injury," Christopher Garcia said.

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