A Cobb County couple allege in a lawsuit a state agency did not follow its own “internal directives” to find and remove dead and dangerous trees before a falling tree struck and killed their daughter in May 2017 in a Bartow County state park.
Patricia Ann Dalgleish and Kenneth Blair Dalgleish want a jury to determine the damages they will receive in the wrongful death lawsuit filed in Bartow County Superior Court.
The Dalgleishes filed the suit almost two years after their daughter, Joelle Morgan Dalgleish, 15, died after the tree struck her in the head as she was lying in a hammock at a campsite in Red Top Mountain State Park.
“Had Georgia Department of Natural Resources maintained its premises as required by its own internal directives, the incident described in this Complaint would never have happened,” the complaint stated.
Former governor Roy Barnes, a Marietta attorney, is representing the couple in the lawsuit related to the Harrison High School student’s death.
A Department of Natural Resources spokesman said the agency did not comment on pending litigation. The park is in southeastern Bartow County on the shores of Lake Allatoona.
The lawsuit said “as evidenced in the manner it describes the activities, facilities and amenities available at Red Top Mountain State Park” on its website, the department “reasonably expected patrons to encounter and interact with the natural and wooded areas, including trees, located throughout the park.”
Joelle Dalgleish was part of a group which reserved and paid to use two campsites at the park to celebrate a friend's 16th birthday, the lawsuit stated.
“Just prior to nightfall, Joelle and the other members of the group set up tents and hammocks that would be used to sleep in at their assigned campsites,” it stated.
She attached her hammock between two trees on one campsite “while another friend attending the birthday celebration attached her hammock to one of the trees Joelle had used, as well as a third tree” on the same campsite.
“Joelle was laying in her hammock and as the friend began to get into her own hammock, the friend heard a loud noise and found herself face down on the ground.
“The third tree, to which the friend had attached her hammock, uprooted and fell on Joelle, striking her on the head as she was laying in her hammock, rendering her unconscious and non-responsive.”
An ambulance transported her to Cartersville Medical Center and an ambulance helicopter took her to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she “was diagnosed with a severe skull fracture that caused her brain to bleed and swell uncontrollably,” the suit stated.
She died two days later on May 21, 2017, one month before her 16th birthday, and “the injuries Joelle sustained from the fallen tree were the immediate and proximate cause of her untimely death,” the suit stated.
“Investigation of the campsite on the morning of May 20, 2017, and a follow-up investigation on May 22, 2017, revealed the fallen tree was dead and lacked a viable root system holding the tree in the ground, the condition of which was, or should have been, apparent to any reasonable DNR employee or agent undertaking to inspect and assess for dead or dangerous trees in the park in and around the campsites.
“The dead and hazardous nature of the tree, including the condition of the root structure, was not open and obvious to Joelle and other reasonably foreseeable users of the park facilities and amenities,” the suit stated.
It said the department, through its Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites division, had a policy to “make sure that regular inspections are completed and action is taken regarding dead/hazardous trees around all facilities, campsites, and public areas."
The suit alleges “no periodic, regular inspection, identification and removal of dead and dangerous trees in Red Top Mountain State Park had occurred” for more than two years before the May 2017 incident.
“Prior to the incident on May 19, 2017, no inspection or action was taken at all regarding the dead and dangerous tree that ultimately fell upon and killed Joelle,” the suit stated.
It said the department had “superior knowledge” of the dead and hazardous nature of the tree and “would have identified the dead and dangerous tree which killed Joelle.
”As the owner, operator and controller of Red Top Mountain State Park, (the department) breached the duty owed to Joelle” by failing to inspect and remove dead and dangerous trees, failing to warn the victim such trees existed on the campsite.
The department inspected and removed dead and damaged trees following the incident, the lawsuit stated.
The Dalgleishes are seeking compensation for pain and suffering, physical, psychological and emotional injuries; and medical bills, funeral expenses “and the general and special damages sustained” by the Harrison High School student’s death.