103-year-old tombstone falls on Paso Robles girl
October 31, 2011
By KAREN VELIE
Attorneys for the Paso Robles Cemetery District are battling over who is responsible for maintaining tombstones after an aged-grave marker fell on a four-year-old Paso Robles girl breaking her ankle.
Last year, Heather Wolcott was visiting the Paso Robles Cemetery with her daughter Lauren when the more than 100-year-old tombstone of Richard Wear fell off of its base onto Laurens ankle. Wear was born in 1847 and died in 1907.
Nevertheless, graveyard district officials said in court filings that they do not own the tombstone and are not responsible for injuries caused by the dangerous conditions of their graveyard’s markers.
Wolcott’s attorney James McKiernan said that from a layman’s perspective it is ridiculous to expect relatives of the deceased to maintain a grave marker and from a law perspective the district is required to protect public safety and maintain its cemeteries.
“In my entire lifetime, I’ve never heard of anyone getting a notice to come on down and spruce up your great grandfather’s grave,” McKiernan said.
On July 28, McKiernan filed a lawsuit claiming negligence, willful failure to warn, and dangerous condition of a public property.
In the lawsuit, McKiernan argues that Health and Safety Code 9004 mandates that “the district that owns a cemetery shall have exclusive jurisdiction and control over its maintenance and management.”
The attorney firm for the district, Roseville based Hunt and Jeppson LLP, fired back by filing a demurrer which challenged the legal sufficiency of the lawsuit saying it was “skeletal” at best.
San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford ruled the cemetery attorney’s demurrer was gravely wrong and is permitting the lawsuit to proceed.
With the cemetery district objection now buried, McKiernan said he anticipates a resolution sometime in the near future.