Patricia Zigler v. City of Hartford: A woman who was injured after a tree fell on her while she was shoveling snow has settled her lawsuit against the city of Hartford for about $25,000.

Patricia Zigler, 49, of Pershing Street in Hartford, was outside shoveling snow the morning after a storm in February 2010 when a neighbor suddenly yelled, “Hey, watch out!”

A century-old oak tree from across the street, weighed down by the heavy wet snow, came crashing down.

“She tried to run but couldn’t escape it,” said her lawyer, Robert Ludgin, of Hartford.

Zigler ended up trapped underneath the branches of the tree, and her right ankle was fractured. Neighbors ran over to try to help her until police and paramedics arrived. “It could’ve been worse, said Ludgin. “She could’ve gotten killed.”

Zigler was taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital for treatment. Her right ankle was set and put in a cast. The fracture did not require any surgeries. She recovered with periodic physical therapy treatments.

Ludgin sent his client to Dr. Stephen Selden for an independent medical exam. The doctor said she had a 7 percent permanent impairment to her lower right leg. In total, Zigler had $8,339 in medical bills.

Ludgin then put the city of Hartford on notice that he intended to sue within 90 days, as required by statute.

He then sued for negligence and also made a claim under the state’s highway defect statute. The negligence count was later stricken.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Catharine Freeman explained that the city of Hartford had hired a contractor during the prior summer of 2009 to conduct repairs and replace several city sidewalks, including the one on Pershing Street. The work included removing some of the tree’s roots, which, the city contends, weakened the tree and made it more susceptible to falling from the weight of the heavy wet snow.

The plaintiffs initially sued the contractor for negligence as well, but later dropped the claim.

Freeman opined that Ludgin “must have come to realize” that he could not prove that the contractor’s negligence directly led to Zigler’s injury without finding an expert who would testify that the contractor’s work made it inevitable the tree would fall over once several inches of snow piled up on the branches.

“Knock on wood, there was, however, a viable claim between the city and the contractor who had agreed to indemnify and hold the city harmless from any and all claims arising out of the work performed,” said Freeman.

Freeman said the contractor’s interests were covered by Nationwide Insurance. Attorney William Santacrose defended Nationwide. So last February, the city sued the contractor so it could be reimbursed for any money it paid to Zigler.

Then, in late 2012, the city negotiated a settlement with Zigler. The case settled for $24,999.

Why not an even $25,000? At the time, any settlement of $25,000 or over would have had to be approved by the nine-member Hartford City Council, Freeman explained.

In explaining why his client agreed to settle, Ludgin said it was hard to nail down just who was to blame. “The problem is trying to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey,” Ludgin said. “It wasn’t certain I was going to be able to prove [contractor negligence] because the roots had been tampered with during work on the sidewalk. Nor did I have good evidence that it was obvious that the tree was going to fall anyhow and the city should’ve taken it down. That’s why we offered to compromise.”

After the initial case settled, the city’s lawsuit againt the contractor seeking reimbursement settled as well, for $18,000. “It’s taxpayer money, so anytime we can recoup on that we try to do that,” said Freeman.•