Our firm settled a wrongful death case against Plantation Oaks, a large commercial hunting resort outside of Tuskegee, Alabama. Our client’s wife was killed while they were hunting on a guided hunt run by the Defendants. In January 2006, our client John Tidwell and his wife, Lisa, were on a paid hunt at Plantation Oaks. Their hunting party included eight other hunters from around the South. Before the hunt that morning, severe weather was forecast to move through Macon County around noon. The forecast included winds of up to 70 mph, thunderstorms and dangerous lightning and even tornados. Lisa Tidwell, and several of the other hunters, were concerned about hunting that morning because of the threat of severe weather. In fact, Mrs. Tidwell decided not to hunt. But, the Defendants’ assured Mrs. Tidwell and the other concerned hunters that Plantation Oaks’ personnel would monitor the weather, stay close to the hunters and get them out of the woods before any dangerous weather struck. Because of the Defendants’ assurances concerning her safety, Mrs. Tidwell agreed to hunt that day.
Mr. and Mrs. Tidwell were taken to the hunting area, which was about 25 minutes away from the lodge and shelter, by the Defendants, and dropped off before daylight. At 7:10 a.m. the National Weather Service issued a severe weather watch for Macon County which predicted that conditions were favorable for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, wind gust up to 70 mph and “dangerous” lightning. By 9:00 a.m., the hunters began to hear thunder and see lightning and tornadoes. By 9:15 a.m., the hunt was over. The hunters were out of their stands and heading to their designated pick-up area expecting Plantation Oaks’ personnel to be there. While the hunters were all at their designated pickup spots by 9:45 a.m., the Plantation Oaks personnel were not there as promised. The personnel were not even close to the hunting area as they had assured the hunters, including Mrs. Tidwell, that they would be.
The Defendants’ personnel were actually 45 minutes away on another tract of hunting land. They were actually performing maintenance work for the next group of hunters who were scheduled to come the following week. Meanwhile, the very dangerous weather struck the hunting grounds just before 10:00 a.m. According to the hunters, the storm was one of the most furious they had witnessed. Extremely intense and dangerous lightning struck all around. The hunters were huddled together in the woods under bushes and trees and remained in the very dangerous weather for approximately 30 minutes fearing for their safety and for their lives.
Expert testimony established that at approximately 10:20 a.m., Lisa Tidwell was killed when a bolt of lightning struck in the area where she was waiting for the Defendant’s personnel. The personnel for the resort arrived at the hunting area at the same time -10:20 a.m.- and found Lisa dead ten minutes later. Had the personnel done what was reasonable and what they had promised, Mrs. Tidwell would have been out of the woods long before the storm struck.
While the danger and destruction caused by tornadoes and hurricanes is well acknowledged, the danger posed by lightning is often overlooked. Records show that lightning kills more people each year than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. The Defendants’ own expert in this case acknowledged that companies that organize outdoor events should always have a plan in place for dangerous weather, including lightning. He further admitted that organizations like this resort must get its customers out of the elements during dangerous weather since statistics prove there is no safe place outside in a lightning storm.
Plantation Oaks failed to have any plan in place to protect its paying customers from dangerous weather. It was significant that – even without a plan – the Defendants actually promised Mrs. Tidwell that they would stay close to the hunting area, monitor the weather and be there to pick her up if the dangerous weather approached. Mrs. Tidwell would never have hunted that day but for those promises. Tragically, Plantation Oaks took none of the steps required of it and which would have easily prevented Mrs. Tidwell’s death. As a result of this negligence, John Tidwell lost his faithful wife and the mother of their two children.
The case, which was pending in the Circuit Court of Macon County, was settled just before jury selection started. The amount of the settlement is confidential. Rick Morrison and Labarron Boone from our firm and Walter McGowin from Tuskegee represented Mr. Tidwell in this case. While the amount of the settlement is confidential, we are hopeful that the owners and operators of Plantation Oaks learned their lesson.
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