Man dies after falling into tree hole in Auckland

The tree pit where Bruce Steedman fell on Broadway in Newmarket in March. Photo: Supplied via NZME.
The tree pit where Bruce Steedman fell on Broadway in Newmarket in March. Photo: Supplied via NZME.

A grieving Auckland woman is seeking legal advice after her elderly partner suffered fatal injuries when he fell into an open tree surround on a busy Newmarket street.

Bruce Steedman - who was a month away from celebrating his 89th birthday - had just been discharged from hospital and was on his way home when he hit his head on the pavement on Broadway in Newmarket last month, was knocked unconscious and rushed back to hospital with a suspected fractured skull.

He died 10 days later, having never regained consciousness.

Now his family are talking to lawyers and have laid several complaints saying he would still be alive today if more care had been taken.

Speaking to the Herald from the couple's One Tree Hill home, Steedman's bereaved partner of more than 40 years, Pat Davidson, said: "I can accept the fact he's died, but I can't accept the fact he died like that."

Steedman had been unwell in the months prior to his death, and was a little frail, but otherwise active and independent, she said.

Pat Davidson and her long-term partner Bruce Steedman. Photo: Supplied via NZME.
Pat Davidson and her long-term partner Bruce Steedman. Photo: Supplied via NZME.

Her partner had presented to Auckland Hospital on Sunday, March 3 with pain in his jaw, Davidson said. He was discharged the next morning in a taxi - a move she was unhappy with, particularly as he didn't have his walking stick with him.

She had planned to pick him up herself, but received a call from the hospital to say he had been put in a taxi.

A phone call from Steedman to say he was on his way home was the last time she spoke to him.

An hour and a half later, when he still had not arrived home, she phoned the hospital. Staff were unhelpful she said, and she ended up ringing police in a desperate attempt to track him down.

It was hours later before she got a call to say he had been brought to the hospital after a fall.

Davidson said she was advised it was a minor injury and she could pick him up in a couple of hours after he had been treated. But when she arrived, he had been admitted to a critical care ward and was unconscious with a huge bloody gash across his forehead.

"He just split open his head, right across there," she said drawing a line with her finger across her forehead. "It was horrible."

So horrible, she said her son turned white when he saw Steedman.

Days later Steedman was transferred to a hospice, and died on March 14.

Davidson is angry - at the hospital for discharging him, alone in a taxi, and the council for leaving the tree surrounds unfilled, despite years of complaints by the local business association.

"I'm actually still really cross," she said. "I was furious to start with, now I'm just cross. I can't go on being furious because I've got to sort it out. But between Auckland Hospital and the Council, that was the end of him."

She wants an apology from both the hospital and the council, and a change in policy to ensure nothing like this happens again.

"I will keep going on [fighting this case]," she said.

"It could happen to anybody, it's not just Bruce. That's his legacy if I get something done."

She has sought help from a lawyer and the Citizens Advice Bureau, and has laid complaints with Auckland Hospital and the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC).

Steedman's death is before the coroner, but Davidson said correspondence indicated initial findings of blunt force head injuries as the cause of death.

Steedman was a well-known horticulturist, who ran his own business for many years. He had worked in Kew Gardens and Bath Gardens in England.

Gardening was his passion, Davidson said, followed by music and reading.

His funeral was "a bit of a pop concert", she said, and everyone joined in singing.

"Not a dry eye in the house by the time we got to the [Neil Young song] Harvest Moon."

Steedman, who "never ever called me anything other than 'love', looked handsome laid out in his coffin, she said.

He was cremated, and Davidson plans to scatter his ashes on One Tree Hill.

The couple have one daughter together, as well as Davidson's three children from a previous relationship, and three grandchildren.

A spokeswoman for Auckland District Health Board said she could not comment on the specific care Steedman received for ethical and privacy reasons.

"However we can confirm that Mr Steedman came into our Emergency Department at Auckland City Hospital to be assessed. This assessment showed admission to the hospital wasn't clinically indicated," she said.

"Due to the time of night, Mr Steedman stayed in the ED until the next morning when we arranged a taxi for him. Our standard process is to consult with both a patient and their family when helping them make arrangements to travel home from hospital.

"We have great sympathy for Mr Steedman's family and their loss. They can be confident he received appropriate care at our ED. We will be in touch with Mr Steedman's family directly to answer any questions they may have."

A spokesman for Auckland Council said: "We were saddened to hear that a man who fell while in Newmarket in March later passed away.

"We attempted to make contact with the man's family via the hospital following the event, but this was unable to be facilitated. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.

"As this incident is now subject to a Coronial inquiry, we are unable to comment further."

The HDC said it had not yet received a complaint.

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