103-year-old tombstone falls on Paso Robles girl

October 31, 2011


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.

Lauren Wolcott



  1. paydirt says:

    Strolling through a cemetery usually means you have your head tilted down towards the earth.. makes
    sense to me. Uneven earth and old headstones go hand in hand… many times I taken a misstep to fin myself catching my fall or twisting my ankle. Oh well that’s life in the graveyard.

    I feel for the broken ankle child, but I don’t feel for the parents who hired a lawyer to sue the Cemetery
    District, or the attorney… geez… get a job!

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  2. ON2U says:

    Injuries and lawsuits aside, a cemetery should be kept up through the years. If Mr. Wear’s gravestone needed to be reattached to the base, then that should be done out of the age old “respect for the dead”. It just seems that the owners of the cemetery have an obligation to look after the gravesites. And if they won’t do it, seems there could be a volunteer group to see about graves. And for all you gripers, the little girl is hurt and it costs money to pay medical bills, etc. I imagine most of you GRIPERS would be the first to run down and file a Lawsuit if you were the injured party.

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    • Ted Slanders says:


      Gravestones just don’t fall over. Unless, of course, the person beneath is spinning in their grave causing this action because of what their remaining family or relatives are doing at the time in the name of Satan! This might have been the logical cause of this upsetting action.

      Or, just maybe, the cute little girl might have been playing around with said gravestone, as in climbing upon it, pushing it, etc.? Now that is disrespect for the dead if this was the case!

      We must always revert back to the number one law of the universe, and that is “cause and effect!” Was the person beneath the cause, or was the little girl the cause? Or was it just fate that the tombstone happened to just fall upon the girl at just the right time she was near it? I think not.

      Addressing your quote; “I imagine most of you GRIPERS would be the first to run down and file a Lawsuit if you were the injured party.” Since medical expenses could reach very high levels, barring the pain and suffering, I am sure under the same circumstances that if you were injured in this situation, you would not seek restitution! Good for you, because there is nothing worse than an outright hypocrite!

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