A young mother who was paralysed when a tree branch fell on her in the car park of Melbourne’s iconic Flemington Racecourse is suing for millions of dollars.
Amanda Parsons, 35, was in the members’ car park on March 5 last year when the branch from a century-old Red River Gum fell, hitting her and three others.
The heavy tree limb severed her spinal cord just below her neck at the T2 vertebrae and she was rushed to hospital fighting for life.
Ms Parsons left the race meet with the world at her feet, the mother of a six-month-old baby girl and holding a $130,000-a-year sales manager job.
She would never walk again and has limited use of her upper body, along with psychological injury from the horrific trauma.
Amanda Parsons, 35, was paralyzed from just below her neck when a tree branch fell on her at Flemington Racecourse on March 5, 2022
A statement of claim filed in the Victorian Supreme Court noted she was ‘unable to provide care and assistance to her husband and one-year-old daughter’.
In documents filed to court, Ms Parsons alleges the Victoria Racing Club was negligent and failed to properly maintain the tree, despite being aware of the risks.
The club’s Flemington Racecourse Heritage Management Plan warned in February 2021 about the dangers the trees could cause.
‘Trees have a finite life expectancy and a common mistake is to retain trees past the point where their contribution to the landscape is offset by their cost of management, and where they pose an ever increasing risk to people and property through limb drop or complete failure,’ it read.
The VRC’s 2021 annual report coincidentally included a photo of Ms Parsons and two friends in a section on its gardens and tracks maintenance.
The lawsuit noted the club should have known the tree species was ‘notorious’ for dropping limbs at its age and was further undermined by fungal fruiting bodies growing on its stem.
The branch from a century-old Red River Gum fell in the members’ car park outside the racecourse, hitting Ms Parsons and three others
Ms Parsons’ lawyer Peter Gordon, senior partner of Gordon Legal, said Red River Gums were known as ‘widowmakers’ for this reason.
‘Our case is they knew it was an accident waiting to happen,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Amanda suffered catastrophic injuries that have permanently affected her life in ways that can never be changed.
‘[The incident] robbed her of precious years with her baby, who was only six months old at the time.’
Mr Gordon said the VRC owed a duty of care to punters and members because it charged them money, and should have made sure the tree was safe.
‘This was near the taxi rank of Flemington Racecourse, it’s one of the most populated areas of Victoria on a race day,’ he said.
The lawsuit alleges the VRC failed to have the tree regularly inspected and pruned, undertake decay testing due to the fungus, and brace the tree if required.
Once a high-achieving saleswoman, the lawsuit claimed Ms Parsons was unlikely to be able to work again due to her injuries.
The Victorian Racing Club’s 2021 annual report coincidentally included a photo of Ms Parsons (centre) and two friends in a section on its gardens and tracks maintenance
She needed constant care and assistance, and would require ongoing medical treatment into the future.
The injury already cost Ms Parsons huge medical bills and more were needed for mechanical aids, a modified car, and home building modifications.
Mr Gordon said he was happy to talk to the VRC to reach a resolution, but also to go to trial as early as possible should that fail.
The VRC insisted the safety of all patrons at Flemington was its number one priority at all times.
‘It would not be appropriate for us to discuss individual patrons and as the matter is before the court we will not provide any further comment,’ it said.
As well as Ms Parsons, two women from aged 72 and 63, and a 68-year-old man, were hit by the tree and suffered serious injuries, and another man hurt his back while helping victims out from under the debris.
The tree was removed days later and WorkSafe inspected all the other trees in the area.