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Family of FDNY firefighter killed on North Carolina estate sues

Branch fell on SUV in which they were travelling


The family of an FDNY firefighter killed last month when a falling tree crashed into the SUV he and his wife were traveling in as they entered the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, have filed a wrongful-death suit against the estate.

The suit, filed earlier this month in that state’s Superior Court, alleges that the estate knew that the tree was a danger to visitors and others, and exhibited gross negligence and recklessness for not warning people of the hazard or cutting it down.

Casey Skudin, a 16-year veteran of Rockaway Park’s Ladder Company 137, his wife and two sons were visiting the estate June 17 to celebrate Father’s Day and his upcoming birthday, when a tree limb snapped during a windstorm and crushed the Skudins’ car, breaking Skudin’s neck and pinning the 45-year-old firefighter in the wreckage. 

The firefighter’s 10-year-old son was knocked unconscious and fractured his sternum and parts of his spine. Skudin’s widow, Angela Skudin, who was taking a video of the drive into the estate, and his older son were also injured, according to the suit.  

It claims the estate was “well-aware of the extreme dangers posed by the tree to guests and families visiting the Biltmore. In fact, it knowingly and intentionally kept a massive, rotted tree on its property next to a main road where Defendants knew it would cause great harm when it fell.”

Biltmore denies negligence

The lawsuit includes pictures purporting to show cables designed to keep the tree upright, demonstrating, the suit alleges, that the estate knew that the tree was a “compromised and dangerous structure.”

The suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, also claims the estate failed to hire “a competent arborist,” to adequately train employees, to “diagnose the extent and severity of the tree rot, decay, or weakness,” and “to divert people from the tree,” among numerous other failures, the suit says. 

“The family is concerned that this isn’t the only tree at the Biltmore that poses a deadly threat to visitors, and we’re performing an independent investigation to determine the extent of the threat and to make sure a similar tragedy doesn’t befall another family,” the family’s attorney, Kyle Findley, said in a statement. 

Biltmore Estate, a portion of which is in Asheville, was the country retreat of George Vanderbilt, a noted collector of art and a scion of the Gilded Age East Coast family that made massive fortunes by amassing shipping and railroad empires. The estate’s centerpiece, a 250-room French Renaissance château, was completed in 1895. The 8,000-acre estate is still owned by the family. The château and grounds, originally landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, opened to the public in 1930 and attracts some 1.4 million visitors each year.

A Biltmore spokesperson called the incident “tragic,” but said the estate denied “all allegations of willful or intentional conduct on the part of Biltmore, as well as the allegations of negligence.”

She cited “multiple eye witness accounts of a short duration high wind event around that time,” adding that the estate would not provide any more details during litigation. 

“There are no words to express our deep sorrow for the Skudin family’s unimaginable loss and we offer them our deepest sympathy,” she said. 

Skudin, valedictorian of his probationary firefighter class, graduating in April 2006, was a decorated firefighter, including for efforts by he and his Ladder 137 FDNY colleagues during Hurricane Sandy.  He also was an avid triathlon athlete and surfer. His family owns Skudin Surf, a surfer camp business, in Long Beach and the Rockaways. 



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