Sabrina Buelna, now 34, was hurt when the 700-pound tree branch fell on her in the front yard of the home she and her husband rented from Mick Hill, a landlord who owned other properties in the area.
On July 16, 2010, they were outside barbecuing when they heard the 100-year-old Black Oak tree on the property start to crack. Their toddler was sitting beneath the tree.
Buelna was able to push the child out of the way, but the branch came down on her her foot, which was crushed under its weight and nearly had to be amputated, said lawyers from DeWitt Algorri & Algorri, the Pasadena law firm that represented the family.
She went through months of treatment and wracked up almost $300,000 in medical bills.
Buelna is still undergoing physical therapy and now walks with a cane. Her husband had to quit his job to take care of her, said Patrick Nolan, an assistant attorney in the trial.
After the incident, officials came out and discovered the tree was completely rotted to the core, and it had been that way for years.
The plaintiff's claim Farmer's Insurance initially denied liability when the two parties started going back and forth.
"The offers were not enough," Nolan said.
But Mark Toohey, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance, said the company made multiple attempts to settle this case before the trial started.
"All of our attempts were rejected by the plaintiff," he said.
The two sides went to trial early last month where Hill admitted that he had not conducted a state-required inspection for dangerous conditions before the Buelna family moved in to the mountain home.
"Landlords have a duty to do a reasonable inspection of the property," Nolan said.
Hill argued that the fallen branch looked healthy from the outside and he could not have known of the rot.
But during the trial, Buelna's lawyers said Hill had run a tree removal service as part of his real estate development background and that the defendant had at one point described himself as a tree expert.
"Mr. Hill never described himself as a tree expert," Toohey said Thursday. "He removed trees as part of preparation of a site in his duties as a general contractor."
On Oct. 25 jurors came back with their verdict - that Hill was responsible for the damage and the victim would receive $2.9 million.
"While we respect the jury's decision, we disagree with the verdict and we intend to explore our post-trial options," Toohey said.
This personal injury case is a clear warning to all landlords, Nolan said.
"Landlord have a duty to inspect their properties for dangerous conditions before they turn it over to their tenants," Nolan said.
"Under the law, a tenant has the right to expect the property is free of any dangerous conditions."