United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
MELISSA PEARSON, on behalf of the Estate of JAMES RAY TURNER, KACEY BURNS, as natural guardian and parent of JESSIE TURNER, a minor, Plaintiffs,
HAROLD DILLINGHAM and MARTEEL DILLINGHAM, Defendants.
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
case arises out of the untimely death of James Ray Turner.
Defendant Harold Dillingham hired Turner in the summer of
2014 to perform odd jobs on the Dillingham's farm in
Alapaha, Georgia. Turner died when the tractor he was
operating overturned and pinned him in a body of water.
Plaintiff Melissa Pearson, Turner's mother, brought this
lawsuit on behalf of Turner's estate, along with Kacey
Burns, as the parent of Jesse Turner, one of Turner's
surviving children, against Defendants Harold and Marteel
Dillingham to recover for the loss of Turner's life.
Plaintiffs allege that Turner's death is the direct
result of Mr. Dillingham's failure to properly train
Turner on the operation of the tractor.
the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 16). After reviewing the pleadings, briefs, affidavits,
and other evidentiary materials presented, and with the
benefit of oral argument, the Court determines that there are
genuine issues of material fact that must be resolved by a
jury. The Court accordingly DENIES
Defendants' motion. Also before the Court is
Plaintiffs' Motion to Exclude the Opinions of H. Horton
McCurdy, Ph.D (Doc. 17) and Defendants' Motion to Exclude
Plaintiffs' Expert Witness Burke Murph (Doc. 14). For the
reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES
Plaintiff's motion to exclude and GRANTS
Defendants' motion to exclude.
undisputed facts are as follows:
July 2014, Defendant Harold Dillingham (“Mr.
Dillingham”) hired Decedent James Ray Turner
(“Turner”) to pull pigweed from his property
located at 1326 Open Door School Road, Alapaha, Berrien
County, Georgia. Once that task was accomplished, Mr.
Dillingham requested Turner complete other odd jobs. On
October 20, 2014, the date of the accident, Mr. Dillingham
instructed Turner to accompany James Frye
(“Frye”), a long-time employee of Mr. Dillingham,
to collect net wrap from one of Mr. Dillingham's fields.
Mr. Dillingham told Frye to attach a trailer to a John Deer
2030 tractor and to drive the tractor out to the field.
4:00 p.m., Turner informed Frye that he needed to use the
restroom. Rather than handling his business outside, as was
customary, Turner unhooked the trailer and set off on the
tractor toward Mr. Dillingham's shop, which was
approximately 1.2 miles away from the field where Turner and
Frye were assigned to work for the day. Turner never returned
to the field.
last person to see Turner on October 20th was Tommy Clark, an
acquaintance of Mr. Dillingham's who was on his way to
make a delivery to a neighboring farm. Clark observed Turner
in the field behind Mr. Dillingham's shop “sliding
the tractor around, playing” somewhere around 4:30 p.m.
(Doc. 16-10, p. 8; Doc. 16-11, p. 9). Turner pulled up
alongside Clark's truck, and Clark asked Turner to help
him unload something from his truck. Clark then told Turner,
“[t]here's been a lot of people killed doing what
you're doing. I said, you don't play on a tractor. It
has a high ground clearance and, I said, it'll turn over
on you. I said, please do not do that anymore.”
(Id.). Turner said, “okay, ” then got
back on the tractor and headed in the opposite direction.
(Id. at p. 9-10).
proceeded up the hill to Mr. Dillingham's shop to rinse
out the bed of his truck and to speak with Mr. Dillingham and
his son Dave. Clark informed Mr. Dillingham that he had seen
Turner engaging in horseplay on the tractor. About twenty
minutes passed before Clark returned to his truck and started
home. As he proceeded down the road, Clark saw the tractor
overturned in the pond. He called to the Dillinghams, who
immediately came to the scene. At first, no one saw Turner.
Then, Mr. Turner noticed a tattooed arm that he identified as
Turner's. Dave Dillingham called 911 at 6:11 p.m. The
Dillinghams and Clark quickly worked to extract Turner from
underneath the tractor, attaching a chain to the tractor and
then using a lull to lift the tractor enough to pull
Turner's body to the shore. According to the Dillinghams
and Clark, Turner's body had already turned a purplish
color, and he had no pulse.
the Berrien County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia State
Patrol responded to the 911 call. Georgia State Trooper
Rodney Harding took pictures of the scene. Trooper Harding
observed “that there were roadway marks showing what
appeared to be he had taken a right-hand turn too fast and,
because of that, kind of pushed out of the curb and ran into
the ditch, causing him to roll the tractor.” (Doc.
16-11, p. 8). He also noted that the tractor was in high gear
when it was removed from the water. Based on his experience
and training investigating accidents, Trooper Harding deduced
from the evidence that Turner was driving the tractor
recklessly at the time of the accident. (Id. at p.
body was taken from the scene of the accident to the
coroner's office. Deputy Harding was present when the
coroner drew blood from the corpse. Trooper Harding preserved
the evidence and submitted it to the Georgia Bureau of
Investigation (“GBI”) for drug and alcohol
testing. Trooper Harding also preserved evidence removed from
Turner's pockets, including a pack of cigarettes, some
rolling papers, a lighter, a handful of peppermints, and a
small bag containing what appeared to be marijuana.
(Id. at 11-12). The GBI lab later tested the blood
obtained from Turner. The blood alcohol test revealed that
Turner had an ethyl alcohol result by gas chromatography of
0.184 grams per 100 ml. The toxicology test showed that
Turner was positive for marijuana.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the
discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits show there is no genuine issue as to any material
fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as
a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine
issue of material fact arises only when “the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When considering a
motion for summary judgment, the court must evaluate all of
the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at
254- 55. The court may not, however, make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. at 255;
see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,
530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).