Mary Ann L. Ostop, Administratrix of the Estate of George C. Roselli v. Maximum Tree Service LLC: The family of a man who was killed after getting hit in the head by a tree that was being cut down will collect $950,000 after settling their lawsuit against the company hired by the town of Simsbury to do the work.
On the morning of July 3, 2012, Maximum Tree Service LLC began cutting small trees and bushes from a very long driveway and road near where George C. “Craig” Roselli, 73, of Simsbury, lived. The area was heavily wooded, and Roselli lived in an in-law apartment in a residence with his sister, Mary Ann Ostop, and her husband, Dick Ostop.
Roselli was a retired school teacher from New Jersey who had moved up to Connecticut to live with his sister and her family some 15 to 20 years earlier, according to the family’s lawyer, John J. Houlihan Jr., of RisCassi & Davis in Hartford.
At 11:33 a.m. on July 3, Roselli returned home from doing errands and, with the tree-cutters already worrking, had to park his car on a cul de sac. A truck and wood-chipper were in sight as Roselli began to walk up the driveway.
Houlihan noted that there were no cones or caution tape to warn any pedestrians that work was being done.
Without warning, while walking up the driveway, Roselli was struck on the top of the head by a falling tree that was about 8 inches in diameter. “It was freakish that a medium-sized tree would land exactly where he was walking,” said Houlihan.
Roselli was rushed to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, but he died of head injuries later that day. “It was a pretty awful situation,” said Houlihan. “It was clear early on these were fatal injuries.”
Crew members told police that they did not see Roselli. Maximum Tree Service had been hired by the town of Simsbury after Roselli’s sister and her husband had called the town about the overegrown brush.
As a result of Roselli’s death, his sister and her family contacted Houlihan and filed a negligence lawsuit against Maximum Tree Service. Essentially the claim was that tree-cutting crew members should have seen Roselli and warned him. Additionally, said Houlihan, “they could have roped up the driveway from pedestrian traffic.”
Houlihan said that one of the crew members acknowledged that the person who actually did the cutting typically tried to ascertain the whereabouts of other workers prior to cutting down a tree. “The worker took special care to know the location of co-workers to let the tree fall, but didn’t take any effort to make sure no one [else] was on the driveway, which was visible from where he was,” said Houlihan.
Houlihan said that Roselli was hard of hearing in one ear, but the attorney does not think Roselli was oblivious to the type of work being done nearby as he walked up the driveway. “I’m sure he heard work being done in the general area,” said Houlihan. “I don’t think he or anyone else had any expectation that a tree was about to be felled upon him.”
If the case had gone to trial, the lawyer representing the tree removal service, Jay F. Huntington, of Regnier, Taylor, Curran & Eddy in Hartford, was prepared to argue that Roselli contributed to the accident. Huntington said “everyone in the household knew the tree cutting would go on” since the family had requested it. Also, Huntington said, a member of the tree-cutting service and a town engineer came out to survey the work the day before.
Huntington said Roselli “should’ve been aware” there was heavy equipment being used and displayed caution while walking “into the zone of danger.”
“Before Roselli was killed, he walked out of the property, went right by the equipment that was set up or in operation, and it’s my understanding he went to get the mail and run some errands. When he walked back, it was when he was killed,” Huntington said.
Lawyers for both sides said they wanted to settle the case quickly. To that end, there was minimal discovery done. The tree-cutting crew members were never even deposed. “Everybody decided that this was a case best resolved sooner rather than later without the expense and heartache of discovery,” said Huntington.
The case went to mediation with Superior Court Judge Antonio C. Robaina. With the judge’s help, the two sides decided to settle for $950,000.
Houlihan, the plaintiff’s attorney, noted that the two sides were far apart on a dollar figure early on, but as he presented evidence about Roselli’s life, compromise came more easily. Houlihan acknowledged that sometimes it’s tougher to put a value on the life of people too young or too old to work for a living.
“When you have someone who’s very young or no longer a breadwinner, it’s important to demonstrate the dimensions of their life they got pleasure from,” said Houlihan. “This guy had a very rich life still. I think the [insurance] company was very receptive when they saw that.”
Houlihan said Roselli still traveled extensively and that the plaintiffs presented a video interviewing the man’s friends, family and traveling pals. “The life he had was very rich and very full for a retired fellow,” said Houlihan.•