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Tree Crushes Homeowner's Spa: Why City Won't Pay

After a resident's gazebo and spa were crushed beneath an oak tree, the city council refused to pay the insurance company.

If an insurance company wants the city's money, it will have to tell it to the judge.

Earlier this week we reported an oak tree fell on a Barcelona home, crushing a gazebo and spa. See photos and story here. Resident Lisa Bracken's insurance company estimated damages at $17,000. On Monday night, the City Council unanimously rejected the claim without discussion.

Patch spoke to Josephine Julian, who handles claims for the city. She said state law protects the city from responsibility in some cases.

"We have an active tree-management program," she said. "As long as we can show we've been diligent we can protect ourselves."

She said falling tree claims are often filed under acts-of-God and caused by wind, storms or erosion. In that case, the insurance company may be on the hook to pay for damages.

But if it was a city tree, shouldn't the city pay?

"Our due diligence to all 100,000 residents is to check each claim," she said. "We have to represent all of our residents. Oftentimes you have a compelling claim, but we still have to do our due dilligence." 

The city contracts with the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority to investigate and potentially pay such claims, Julian said. That relationship began when Mission Viejo incorporated in 1988.

The contract between CJPIA and the city requires the city to "defend each claim vigorously," Julian said.

"We've got to protect our money," she said.

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