BERKELEY -- The parents of a 21-year-old woman killed in July by a falling oak tree at a Jewish summer camp near Yosemite have filed a wrongful-death suit against PG&E and four tree inspection services contracted with the utility company.
The suit alleges the tree services, contracted with Pacific Gas & Electric to inspect the oak tree to make sure it would not fall on nearby power lines, failed to recognize it was in danger of falling over. The suit does not name the San Francisco-based Camp Tawonga as a defendant but leaves open the possibility of naming others. It was filed in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday.
Annais Rittenberg, an art counselor and UC Santa Cruz student, was killed July 3 at Camp Tawonga in Yosemite when an 80-foot black oak tree fell on her while she was sitting on a bench at a campfire circle as hundreds of children ate breakfast in a nearby dining hall.
Four adult staff members were injured and treated at area hospitals, but no campers were injured.
At the time of the accident, Tuolumne County sheriff's Sgt. Jim Oliver said "there was nothing to indicate there was anything wrong with this tree. Even to look at the existing tree trunk, there is still nothing wrong."
But the suit, filed by Rittenberg's parents, Mark Rittenberg, of Berkeley, and Penelope Kreitzer Rittenberg, of Oakland, says PG&E and its contractors should have noticed that the tree was structurally weak and in danger of falling on people in the camp, and they should have taken action to prevent the accident. It names an arborist, Denise Britton of Britton Tree Services in St. Helena, as a defendant who inspected the tree in the last year.
Britton did not return a phone call seeking comment on Thursday.
As a result of negligence, the suit says Rittenberg's parents have "been deprived of the love, companionship ... and comfort" of their daughter. The suit seeks monetary damages, including funeral and burial expenses.
Rittenberg was a native of New York. She would have been a senior at UC Santa Cruz in the fall. A nature enthusiast, she worked at a local radio station and majored in environmental conservation at the university, a campus representative said.
A spokeswoman for PG&E declined to comment specifically about the suit.
"We continue to express our sincere condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of those affected by this tragedy," Nicole Liebelt said. "We have not yet received the lawsuit, and therefore it is premature to comment at this time."
Contact Doug Oakley at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/dougoakley.