A couple whose baby daughter was killed by a falling branch in Central Park have won a $13.75 million settlement after a decade-long legal battle.
Michael Ricciutti and his wife Karla del Gallo had taken six-month-old Gianna to the zoo in the summer of 2010 when the accident happened.
They had just posed for a family photo when an 18-inch-thick tree branch fell 25 feet, slamming into del Gallo, who was holding their daughter, and killing the baby.
‘She didn’t get to call us Mum and Dad. She can’t go to school. She didn’t get to take her first steps,’ said Ricciutti, an account executive with a shipping company, a year after the accident.
‘So much was taken from her. Everything was taken from her.’
Michael Ricciutti and his wife Karla del Gallo with baby Gianna, who was killed in 2010
His wife spent weeks in a medically-induced coma and still suffers from cognitive issues.
The couple filed a $50 million claim in 2011 against the city, the Central Park Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the zoo, and Beucler Tree Experts of Tenafly, NJ, which the society had hired to do tree work.
The case was settled in November, with insurance companies for the Wildlife Conservation Society paying out $10 million of the settlement; Beucler paying $3 million, and the city and the conservancy paying out the remaining $750,000.
Ricciutti and del Gallo, a 41-year-old marketing manager, had two more children, and the family has moved away from the area. Gianna would have turned 11 years old this month.
On the anniversary of her death, Ricciutti told the New York Post of the terrible moment the branch crashed onto his wife and child.
‘It seemed like a split second,’ he said. ‘I looked up and looked down, and that was it.
‘My daughter and wife were on the ground. [Karla] was trying to move a little bit, and yell out.
‘Her relative was just trying to keep her still. She was trying to sit up. I knelt over Gianna, and was trying to pick her up.’
Gianna, born in December 2009, was described by her mother as a ‘Christmas gift’
Insurance companies for the Wildlife Conservation Society – which runs the zoo – are paying out $10 million of the $13.75 million settlement; Beucler is paying $3 million, and the city and the conservancy paying out the remaining $750,000
Despite immediate medical attention from a passing doctor who witnessed the accident and from emergency responders who rushed del Gallo and baby Gianna to hospital, the child could not be saved.
The baby was pronounced dead at the Weill-Cornell Medical Center as del Gallo fought for her life in a medically induced coma.
Ricciutti eventually told del Gallo that their baby was dead, after doctors said she was in a strong enough condition to cope with the news.
Del Gallo told the paper: ‘I thought family was taking care of Gianna while I was in the hospital. I had no idea that she was hurt at all, or that she had died.’
He explained to her that ‘someone else was hurt when the tree [limb] fell. That I was holding Gianna, and that she was too little to survive.’
She added: ‘Gianna was my whole world. It was very confusing, and just unbelievable.’
Gianna, she said, was their ‘Christmas gift’.
Ricciutti and relatives are seen outside the emergency room of the hospital in 2010
Karla del Gallo spent weeks in a coma from the accident and did not know her daughter died
She was born in December 2009, two years after their wedding. The couple met on internet dating site Match.com.
‘We were thrilled every day,’ she said. ‘Gianna just amazed us. She was a good baby. She had amazingly beautiful eyes, and she just loved being around people. She loved when her daddy would give her kisses on her feet, and she giggled all the time.
‘I used to call her my “Gianna bird” because when she was little, she used to sound like a bird.’
One year after the accident, del Gallo had had operations on her brain, eyes, nose, cheeks, throat, neck, shoulders and stomach.
At the time she could not read, dress herself or drive. She struggled to walk and needed her husband’s help to take a shower.
It is unclear how complete her recovery has been in the intervening years, but her attorneys said she had lingering problems.
Central Park has been the scene of numerous devastating – and expensive – accidents.
In 2013, Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, 44, had her spine partially severed by a 100-pound oak tree limb that fell on him.
He won an $11.5 million settlement against the city.
That same year, the city agreed to pay $3 million to the family of Elmaz Qyra, who was killed in February 2010 by a falling branch in Central Park.
A Queens woman, Roberta Colores-Martinez reached a $750,000 settlement from the city and two private tree companies after a falling limb fractured her skull in May 2010.
A more recent case, dating from August 2017, is still being argued.
An executive with fashion label Tory Burch, Anne Monoky Goldman, was struck by a 3,000-pound tree while walking along West Drive near West 62nd Street with her sons, ages four and two, in a stroller, and her two-month-old infant strapped to her chest.
Goldman, 42, was left with traumatic brain injury, a concussion, spinal fractures, including a vertebrae “split in four places,” and a lingering fear she could be left paralyzed if she suffers more physical trauma, according to court papers.
Her youngest suffered a skull fracture. She was forced to stop breastfeeding.
The fashion director filed a $200 million claim against the city shortly afterward.
The case is ongoing, said her lawyer, Jordan Merson, who added Goldman has post-traumatic stress disorder from her extensive injuries, and lives with the fear “she could be a full quadriplegic if anything goes wrong.”
Her son has also developed a debilitating fear of trees falling onto him.