Tree Crushing

Costa Mesa firefighters look to remove a giant Eucalyptus Tree that impacted a car waiting for traffic light at Irvine St. and 17th street in Costa Mesa, crushing the vehicle. (DON LEACH, DON LEACH / August 27, 2013)

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Parents of a Tustin woman killed in 2011 when a 10-ton, 70-foot blue gum eucalyptus tree crushed her car on Irvine Avenue near 17th Street each received $550,000 in a settlement agreement with Newport Beach, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The city resolved the lawsuits in May, paying $500,000 of the total $1.1 million agreed upon, said City Attorney Aaron Harp.

The city's insurance carrier paid $550,000, and the tree maintenance contractor, West Coast Arborist, paid $50,000, he said.

"I think the city of Newport recognized that this shouldn't have happened, and that they need to be better in maintaining their trees," said lawyer Rahul Ravipudi, who represented the woman's father in the case. "When it comes to the issue of beauty versus the safety of human life, that safety should come first."

Haeyoon Miller was waiting at a red light in the early afternoon of Sept. 15, 2011, when a eucalyptus planted in an Irvine Avenue median toppled onto her car.

Firefighters said they found the 29-year-old unresponsive when they arrived.

A city crane was required to remove the tree from the crushed car, and Miller was pronounced dead at the scene.

"We don't know why the tree fell," Newport Beach spokeswoman Tara Finnigan said at the time.

The family had moved to the United States so their daughter could receive a better music education than was available in Korea, Ravipudi said. Miller was educated at Juilliard.

Miller's mother, Hyun Myung Suk, and father, Sunyl Chung, each filed separate wrongful-death claims against the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa in March 2012.

The parents are divorced and wanted separate counsel, Ravipudi said.

The father, who lives in South Korea, received counsel from Richard Hoffman Law Offices and from Ravipudi, a lawyer at Panish, Shea and Boyle, which is also representing Michael Jackson's mother and children in the ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit.

Both parents claimed the cities failed to maintain the tree, which was on the edge of Costa Mesa city limits but maintained by Newport Beach.

Miller's father said in the legal complaint that the trees in the area leaned dangerously toward the street.

After both cities rejected the claims, the parents individually filed lawsuits in June 2012 against them, as well as against West Coast Arborist.

In the May settlement, Newport Beach took full responsibility for the tree, thereby clearing up any outstanding issues with Costa Mesa, Harp said.

Neither a representative from West Coast Arborist nor other lawyers involved in the case could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Newport Beach began removing eucalyptus trees in the area soon after the accident. The city also paid more than $300,000 to plant African tulip and date palm trees on a stretch of Irvine Avenue near where the accident occurred.