DeKalb County officials are investigating the death of a 36-year-old U.S. Postal worker who was killed when a large tree fell onto his truck as he was delivering mail. Authorities say the worker had been driving past a grove of tall pine trees when one suddenly uprooted and fell on top of the worker’s truck, causing immediate death.
A spokesman for the county, which owned the property where the pine tree had been rooted, called the incident an “unfortunate, tragic accident.” He attributed it to a number of factors all happening at once, including wind and a build-up of ice. Trees owned by the county are checked every six months, but those located in areas near playgrounds or other gathering spots are checked every month, he said.
Although it’s unclear whether this worker had a spouse or children, any dependents he did have would be entitled to worker’s compensation death benefits. As a federal employee, his benefits are handled a bit differently than those who work for private companies in Georgia.
The U.S. Department of Labor notes that the Federal Employee Compensation Act provides workers’ compensation coverage to some 3 million federal workers for employment-related injuries and occupational diseases. Per Section 8102 of the act, the federal government pays compensation for the disability or death of an employee that results from a work injury UNLESS:
- The injury was caused by employee’s willful misconduct;
- The injury was caused by the employee’s intention to bring about injury or death to himself or someone else;
- The injury was proximately caused by the intoxication of the injured employee.
Benefits include medical services and related expenses, partial disability and permanent disability. For those who have died, beneficiaries per Section 8109, are entitled to a burial allowance and the basic rate of compensation for permanent disability, which is 66 and 2/3 percent of worker’s monthly pay prior to death.
If a claim for federal workers’ compensation benefits is denied, worker can appeal to the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board. It is highly recommended that workers hire an experienced work injury lawyer to help them through this process.
It may also in this particular scenario be worthwhile for surviving family members to explore third-party liability on the part of the property owner, in this case, the county. Both public and private property owners owe a duty of care to other people regularly examine the tree for potential hazards. Most people are loathe to cut down a tree – especially a large one – but when they pose risks to others, there may be no other choice.
Private property owners who have concerns about one or several trees on their lot should pay a certified arborist to conduct an inspection. In some cases, it could mean basic trimming work. In other situations, it could mean the tree has to be cut down.
Some may lament the cost of such action, but the cost of litigation is probably far more than what they would pay to address the tree problem in the first place.
Here, decedent’s family would have to show the county breached its duty of care. This will mean determining just how frequently the trees were inspected and whether the county failed in its duty to take reasonable efforts to keep the site safe.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .