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Jury Awards $6 Million to Man Injured by Falling Tree Limb

A Hunterdon County, New Jersey jury awarded a $6 million verdict to Kenneth Matlcok after he sustained severe injuries when a large tree limb fell on his vehicle. The large, rotten limb was hanging over Route 29, a state roadway. The defendant in the lawsuit was the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

Matlock and his wife Vicky were driving down Route 29 with their daughter and two of her friends on July 4, 2006 when a tree limb hanging over the road fell through the roof of their vehicle. The NJDOT report stated that the tree limb was “hollowed out” and described the tree as “rotting.” During the trial, it was revealed that there had been 55 reports of tree-related incidents on the same road within the two-year period preceding the accident. During these previous accidents, NJDOT employees had the opportunity to conduct inspections that would have revealed the rotten tree limb hanging over the road. The state of New Jersey admitted that a maintenance crew supervisor was responsible for identifying trees which posed a potential hazard to motorists, but no action was ever taken regarding the limb that fell onto Matlock’s vehicle.

The NJDOT did not make a settlement offer before trial. Trial commenced on October 13, 2009 before Judge Peter A. Buchsbaum and a jury. One witness presented by the plaintiff was Douglas Hunt, a certified tree expert and registered arborist. Hunt testified that the tree limb in question was at “high risk for failure” and that the state should have known of the dangerous condition and corrected it before the accident. Another witness presented by the plaintiff was George Widas, a professional engineer who testified that NJDOT failed to conduct a competent inspection which would have identified dangerous trees.

The trial lasted for two weeks before a unanimous jury returned a verdict of $6 million against the NJDOT. The verdict is believed to be the largest in the history of Hunterdon County. Matlock was represented by attorneys from the law firm Feldman, Shepherd, Wohgelerneter, Tanner, Weinstock & Dodig.

Matlock and his wife both suffered broken necks as a result of the falling limb, which apparently fell from an oak tree which had been weakened by flooding. Vicky Matlock has recovered from her injuries, but Kenneth Matlock, now 43, was permanently disabled in the accident. He can no longer work as a truck driver, which was his career for 20 years.

The plaintiffs initially sued the township and the county as well as the state. It was determined that the tree was in the state’s right-of-way, and the suits against other defendants were dismissed. The jury found that the state had indeed been negligent in their duty to protect motorists from dangers.

If you have been injured in Georgia due to the actions or inactions of a negligent property owner, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact a Georgia premises liability attorney as soon as possible. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.