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Chicago Park District sued over man’s death at art installation

Sun-Times file photo

A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims the Chicago Park District’s failure to maintain an art installation near 31st Street Beach led to a man’s death in August.

Micaela Guzman, the wife of 38-year-old Manuel Guzman, filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court and seeks at least $50,000 in damages, according to court documents.

The Guzmans attended a salsa dance instruction party with friends at 31st Street Beach between 5 and 10 p.m. on Aug. 8, according to the suit. As they headed back to their vehicles after the party, they noticed a that had been tree painted white with large toy butterflies and ornaments placed on it.

Manuel Guzman was standing under the tree waiting for his wife to take his picture when a branch snapped, striking him in his head and knocking him the ground, the suit says.

Officers responded about 11:30 p.m. and determined that Guzman had fallen from a tree, according to Chicago Police. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A police source said Guzman had been drinking before he fell.

An autopsy the following day found Guzman died of blunt force injuries to his head and neck and his death was ruled an accident, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.

The painted tree was part of a series of city art installations called the Chicago Tree Project, according to the project’s website. Sculptors were given dead and sick trees in Chicago parks to transform them “into vibrant public art.”¬†The installations were a collaboration between Chicago Sculpture International and the Chicago Park District.

The park district failed to remove dead and dying branches from tree, including after another branch had broken off, the suit claims. Additionally, the park district failed to post warning signs for the public to keep a safe distance from the tree.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District declined to comment Wednesday.