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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

City considering $100,000 settlement for child struck by oak tree at Ocala park

City officials looking to avoid a jury trial will consider a $100,000 settlement to the mother of a child who was struck by a large oak tree at an Ocala park in 2020.

The Ocala City Council will vote on the settlement as part of its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, April 16, at 4 p.m. at Ocala City Hall (110 SE Watula Avenue).

The matter dates back to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a complaint filed in the fifth judicial circuit court of Marion County, Kellee Reza and her child were visiting the Heritage Nature Conservancy on July 11, 2020.

Heritage Nature Conservancy (1900 NE 3rd Street)
Heritage Nature Conservancy (1900 NE 3rd Street)

Reza, who was living in Levy County at the time, was watching her son play at the playground within the park, which is located at 2005 NE 3rd Street in Ocala.

According to the complaint, Reza’s child was “playing on or near the playground equipment” when a “dead/rotten/diseased/unsafe” tree fell and “violently” struck him.

Heritage Nature Conservancy in Ocala, Florida
Heritage Nature Conservancy in Ocala, Florida (July 2019)

In April 2021, Reza filed a lawsuit against the city of Ocala, accusing the city of negligence and claiming substantial injuries.

In its original affirmative defense filing, the city of Ocala claimed that the incident was an “act of God” and that the tree in question had no “obvious defects.”

Now in its third year, the case has gone to mediation twice, including once last month, in order to avoid a jury trial.

During the second mediation on March 28, 2024, Reza’s attorneys asked to settle the case for $200,000.

After additional negotiations, the parties reached a “tentative agreement for $100,000 as a full and complete settlement.” The proposed settlement would be paid from the city’s “self-insurance fund,” according to a memo by city staff.

The settlement is part of the city’s consent agenda, which features a list of items that are decided in one vote by Ocala City Council members. There is generally no discussion of consent items unless a member of the council or public requests as much.