Lenox, Stockbridge face $800K suit in 2012 death of man struck by tree
The family of a Sudbury man who died after a rotted tree fell on him as he returned to his car on Richmond Mountain Road following a nighttime Tanglewood concert is seeking $800,000 in a negligence claim against the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge.
The road bisects the two communities and at the time of the July 4, 2012, incident, the precise location of the tree, before and after it fell, was believed to include both towns.
The claim, received in a demand letter from the Boston attorney representing the estate of Lester J. Holtzblatt, was referred by both towns to their insurer, the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA).
Holtzblatt, 61, was a senior principal systems engineer at the Bedford office of the MITRE Corp., a global nonprofit that operates federally funded research and development centers.
He was returning to his car with his wife, Karen, following a James Taylor concert when the tree suddenly collapsed on the roadway leading to the Kripalu spa, where the couple had parked. At the time, Lenox police termed the tragedy "an act of God."
In his letter to town leaders on behalf of the Holtzblatt family, Boston attorney Bradley M. Henry contended that the towns "knew, or reasonably should have known that the long-dead tree presented an imminent safety hazard."
Detailing the incident, Henry wrote that "unfortunately, due to the negligent inspection of the trees along Richmond Mountain Road near Tanglewood, Mr. Holtzblatt lost his life as one such tree broke in half, fell and struck him. Mr. Holtzblatt died laying in the roadway with first responders trying to revive him."
In support of his written claim, the attorney, who was unavailable for comment at his office on Monday, attached a report from EMT responders at the scene noting that "the tree appeared rotten." On-scene photos, also attached, depicted a "rotted center and core of the tree, and an exterior stripped of virtually all bark and branches," Henry stated.
"Mrs. Holtzblatt is both hopeful and confident that an amicable and appropriate settlement of this matter can be reached in the near future without the need for litigation," the attorney's letter added.
At the time of his death, Henry wrote, Holtzblatt was earning $150,000 a year with no specific plans to retire, and he and his wife had two children and two grandchildren, "upon whom Les doted unabashedly."
Town officials in Lenox and Stockbridge declined comment, pointing out that their municipal insurer was handling the claim. At MIIA, a division of the Massachusetts Municipal Association located in Woburn, the senior claims representative assigned to the case was not available for an interview.
In his claim, the attorney placed the location of the tree in Lenox and wrote that the two towns "by their own formal and informal agreements, as well as custom and practice" shared responsibility for maintaining Richmond Mountain Road and the trees alongside it.
Referring to 16 photos taken at the scene by Lenox police, "to even the naked eye of an untrained and casual observer, the tree appears obviously dead and it was located at the very edge of the roadway," Henry contended. "Any reasonable tree warden or other representative would, and should have immediately recognized that this tree needed to be removed from the area in order to preserve public safety, particularly in an area that welcomes vast numbers of visitors during the summer months."
The attorney argued that "the failures by the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge in the inspection, care, maintenance and removal of trees along Richmond Mountain Road led directly to Mr. Holtzblatt's untimely, preventable injuries, pain and suffering and, ultimately his death, as well as the negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium to his wife, Karen."
Citing the details of the case and the financial and emotional impact on the family, Henry wrote: "This is a case in which a responsible jury would likely grant an award in the millions against a private party, and the family and estate of Mr. Holtzblatt are prepared to pursue claims against any and all private parties that were negligent and-or grossly negligent regarding this incident."
"Separate and considerably larger demands are expected to be tendered to private parties having any role in this matter," he added.
However, according to the attorney, Mrs. Holtzblatt "would prefer to sit down and discuss how to resolve this matter in a way that, apart from mere and quite limited compensation for the incident, may lead to processes and procedures that might avoid such tragedies in the future."
Messages left for Karen Holtzblatt were not immediately returned on Monday.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
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