Embattled Georgia off-road park hit with record $22M wrongful death verdict

Dr. Adam White (left), a metro Atlanta orthodontist, was killed while riding a dirt bike at Durhamtown Off-Road Park in 2019.

Credit: Family Photo

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Dr. Adam White (left), a metro Atlanta orthodontist, was killed while riding a dirt bike at Durhamtown Off-Road Park in 2019.

Credit: Family Photo

Greensboro park, owner found liable for death of Gwinnett orthodontist

A jury has ruled against a popular Georgia off-roading destination in a wrongful death suit, awarding $22 million to the family of a metro Atlanta orthodontist killed at the Greensboro park in a record-setting verdict.

Durhamtown Off-Road Park and its owner, Mike McCommons, were found liable April 29 in the wrongful death of Dr. Adam White, according to Andersen, Tate & Carr, the Gwinnett County law firm representing White’s family. The verdict amount is the largest ever awarded in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, where the case was tried, the firm said.

Durhamtown has since been sold and rebranded as Georgia Off-Road Park.

White was killed when he was hit by a falling tree while riding a dirt bike at the park in September 2019, according to the civil complaint filed in Greene County. The tree was knocked over because McCommons was using heavy machinery to clear timber alongside the trail despite knowing it was being used by dirt bikers, the complaint said.

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A Greene County jury awarded the White family $22 million after finding Durhamtown Off-Road Park liable for the death of Dr. Adam White. Family and friends gathered at the courtroom in support.

Credit: Anderson, Tate & Carr

A Greene County jury awarded the White family $22 million after finding Durhamtown Off-Road Park liable for the death of Dr. Adam White. Family and friends gathered at the courtroom in support.

Credit: Anderson, Tate & Carr

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A Greene County jury awarded the White family $22 million after finding Durhamtown Off-Road Park liable for the death of Dr. Adam White. Family and friends gathered at the courtroom in support.

Credit: Anderson, Tate & Carr

Credit: Anderson, Tate & Carr

White is survived by his wife of 24 years, Debi, and three daughters. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Debi said the verdict was “bittersweet.” She was accompanied in the interview by her lawyer, Render Freeman.

“It was hard to explain. Just seeing Mike in the courtroom was very difficult for all of us,” Debi said, referring to McCommons.

“We’re hurt and we’re angry,” she said, adding that her husband’s death was preventable and had left her and their daughters struggling through “a living nightmare.”

“He was a light, and unfortunately, he’s not here,” Debi said. “If it wasn’t for the girls, I’m sure I would not be here today.”

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Debi White with her late husband, Dr. Adam White.

Credit: Family Photo

Debi White with her late husband, Dr. Adam White.

Credit: Family Photo

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Debi White with her late husband, Dr. Adam White.

Credit: Family Photo

Credit: Family Photo

Freeman said McCommons asked to be excused from the courtroom because he was not feeling well, so the defendant was not present when the verdict was read.

The AJC reached out to the off-road park for comment but did not hear back.

The monster verdict adds to the legal and financial woes faced by McCommons and the nearly 6,000-acre park that was abruptly shut down and reopened under a new name earlier this year, The Athens Banner-Herald reported in March.

In 2019, a jury found that multiple plaintiffs associated with Durhamtown had been grossly negligent after a teenager crashed his dirt bike into an exposed pipe and nearly lost his leg five years earlier, according to The Trial Lawyer magazine.

The jury awarded the boy and his family nearly $15 million, court documents show. According to Trial Lawyer, video taken from a GoPro camera the teen was wearing on his helmet at the time of the crash showed the pipe was exposed. By the time sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, someone had placed a tire barrier in front of the pipe, the magazine reported.

After White was killed at Durhamtown in 2019, two more people died at the park in 2020, the Banner-Herald reported.

When the off-road park reopened in March, McCommons told the Banner-Herald he had sold Durhamtown to his brother, Tim McCommons, and that he was “just hanging out and enjoying my days in retirement.” Rebranded as Georgia Off-Road Adventures, the park was planning a grand opening celebration this month, the newspaper reported.

“He’s a very crafty and sophisticated guy in terms of how he’s tried to set this place up and insulate himself from personal liability,” Freeman said of Mike McCommons.

Attorneys for the White family are preparing post-judgment legal motions to target the sale of the park, Freeman said.

According to records kept by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, a new corporation called Georgia Off-Road Adventure Rentals was formed in January with the same address as Durhamtown. Its organizer and registered agent is listed as Hailey McCommons. It’s not clear how she is related to Mike and Tim McCommons, but an obituary for their mother, Bevelyn McCommons, lists a grandchild named Hailey.

Regarding the $22 million owed to the White family, Freeman said there was no insurance policy that he knew of that would make a payout and that his firm would be using “old-fashioned collection efforts.”

Acknowledging that collecting the full amount would be a challenge, Freeman added, “It may take us a while, but we’re not going anywhere.”

Debi said she was not sure of her next steps. “We’re just trying to make it through the days,” she said.

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