On July 3, 2021, a tree fell on a delivery truck in New Jersey. The tree uprooted, fell on the road and struck the vehicle as the truck passed by. Dispatchers sent the police, fire department and emergency workers to the accident.
The fallen tree trapped the 49-year-old woman in her driver compartment. When the first responders arrived on the scene, they tried to remove the delivery worker from the truck. A nearby tree service business and contractor helped the rescue crews free the woman from the vehicle.
The ambulance drove the injured woman to medical aircraft, which flew her to the hospital. Unfortunately, the driver died from her injuries.
As time passes, trees can become weak, diseased or damaged. Although there are signs that a tree may fall, individuals may not know what they are. They include:
- Dead branches on the tree/falling branches
- Hole in the trunk of the tree
- Missing bark on the tree trunk
- Weak or rotten tree roots
- Diseased, deformed, shriveled, or discolored leaves
- Leaning tree
Trees also have the potential to fall during or after hazardous weather. Heavy rains, dangerous storms, strong winds and earthquakes bend, break, beat and even uproot trees; eventually, the tree falls.
If the tree-falling accident occurs while the victim was in the course of their employment, the injured person or deceased party’s estate can file a claim to receive benefits for the injury or fatality. Under New Jersey law, the exclusive remedy for a work-related accident is workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance that covers employees when they have a work-related accident. State law requires employers to have coverage through an insurance agency, a company that provides workers’ compensation insurance, or the state’s workers’ compensation fund. With approval by the Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance, the employer may have self-insurance.
An employer that carries worker’s compensation self-insurance establishes and maintains the funds to cover job-related injuries. The Commissioner must determine whether the employer meets such requirements as financial capacity and length of time of the business’s existence.
To submit a workers’ compensation claim, the employer must receive actual notice of the injury or death. If the claimant fails to give notice within the time limit set by state law, the claimant loses the right ever to bring the claim. If notice is timely, the injured employee may submit a workers’ compensation claim to the employer.
The employer reports the accident to the workers’ compensation insurance provider for approval or denial of the claim. The injured worker may receive wage compensation, medical care, and disability benefits.
For work injuries that result in death, the personal representative of the deceased worker’s estate may file a claim to recover death benefits, including funeral and burial expenses and wage compensation to the deceased’s dependents, as defined by state law. The wage compensation is a percentage of the victim’s weekly wage at the time of death. New Jersey workers’ compensation calculates and distributes the amounts in the priority set for the state law.
The claimant may not receive a favorable decision on his workers’ compensation claim submitted to the employer. If there is a denial or dispute regarding the claim, the injured worker or personal representative can file an informal or formal claim with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation.
The informal claims process begins with the worker filing an application for an informal hearing. The judge of compensation hears the claim and suggests resolutions for the disputes. However, the recommendations are not binding; therefore, the parties do not have to follow them.
A claimant who does not like the outcome of the informal hearing still has the option to file a formal claim petition. The decisions made by the judge of compensation in the formal claims process are binding on all parties. The claimant has two years from the date of injury to file a formal claim. Filing a claim with an employer or applying for an informal hearing does not stop the deadline clock for the claimant to submit a formal claim petition.