As a family mourns the loss of their 3-old-girl who was
killed by a falling tree branch at a New Jersey campsite over the July 4
holiday weekend, it remains to be seen whether this tragic death could have
What’s known at this time from news reports is that the
toddler was inside a tent on July 6 at Jellystone Park Campground at Tall Pines
in Elmer when she was hit by the branch. She was taken to Inspira Medical
Center Elmer, where she was pronounced dead. A brief tornado reportedly touched
down in Mount Laurel Township that afternoon, about 40 miles northeast of
Jellystone Park. It is unknown at this time whether weather contributed to the
The tragedy marks the second time in less than two weeks that a fatal tree fall has grabbed national headlines. On June 25, an 11-year-old Girl Scout was killed and two adults and a 10-year-old girl were injured when a tree that was roughly 35- to 45-feet tall fell while they were hiking at a southern Indiana camp. Significant rain had fallen in the area during the two preceding weeks, according to law enforcement. The cause of the tragedy is still under investigation. The county sheriff described the fallen tree as appearing to be “uprooted.”
How to Prevent Tree-Fall
According to the U.S. Forest Service, in 2012 forest land
comprised 766 million acres, or 33 percent of the total land area of the United
States. With millions of people engaged in recreational activities on forest
land — including camping, hiking and hunting, to name a few — the possibility
of encountering a high-risk tree situation is real. That is why campground
operators must inspect and maintain their sites so as to identify trees with
hazard potential and mitigate the risk, Feldman Shepherd attorneys John
Dodig and Jason
Daria, whose legal practices focuses on catastrophic personal injury
Dodig and Daria, who have handled multiple cases in which
falling trees seriously injured and killed people, identified actions campsite
operators, and others responsible for public safety, can take to protect the
public from dangerous trees. They include:
Daria said that when tree-fall accidents occur, people are
quick to blame the weather or often regard them as “freak” occurrences, never stopping
to consider that someone may have breached a legal duty to maintain the safety
of that tree.
“There are a lot of trees that don’t fall on a stormy day,”
he said. “Negligent maintenance may be a factor with respect to the one tree that
Dodig and Daria recommend contacting a personal injury
attorney as soon as possible following a tree-fall accident so that a prompt
inspection of the tree and surrounding area can be performed before
environmental conditions change and the accident scene is cleared. Experts in
arboriculture, campsite management and accident reconstruction can assess
whether a dangerous condition was, in fact, discoverable to a campground operator
or other entity responsible for tree safety.
Dodig added, “No family should lose a child while simply
trying to enjoy the great outdoors. My heart goes out to everyone who loved
these two little girls. If investigations show that these tree accidents were
preventable, their families have every right to pursue all legal remedies
He said that litigation often provides comfort to grieving
families by shining a spotlight on dangerous conditions and helping to ensure
that other families won’t lose loved ones to similar tragedies. He noted that
one of his fatal tree-fall cases led to the state of New Jersey conducting a
proper tree survey at a state park. The survey revealed that most of the trees
in and around the campground where the accident occurred were compromised. To
this day, the camping areas remain closed, Dodig said.
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