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HIGH SPEED PURSUIT; RECKLESS DISREGARD FOR PROPER LAW ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURES; BELOW KNEE AMPUTATION; MEDIATION: SETTLEMENT

Timothy J. Wilson vs. City of College Park, Georgia
State Court of Fulton County Civil Action File No. 3007EV001667B

$3 million settlement for below knee amputation, resulting from a high speed pursuit.

On August 6, 2006, Timothy J. Wilson, a 32-year old Industrial Maintenance Technician, was visiting his aunt in College Park, Georgia.  While returning to his home on a motorcycle, he was struck from the rear by a vehicle driven by Darren Surry, who was attempting to elude an officer of the College Park Police Department.  This officer, who had been operating a stationary radar device on I-285, attempted a traffic stop of Mr. Surry for speeding.  When the officer activated his emergency lights and siren, Mr. Surry fled for less than one mile on I-285, and then took the first exit onto Washington Road.  During the high speed pursuit, Mr. Surry drove at speeds in excess of 85 miles per hour, made improper lane changes, passed several vehicles, and ran the stop sign at the top of the Washington Road exit ramp, where the pursuit continued for about one mile until he lost control and violently collided with Mr. Wilson’s motorcycle, resulting in injuries which eventually required a below knee amputation of Mr. Wilson’s left leg.

Plaintiff contended that the pursuing officer and the police dispatcher acted in reckless disregard for proper law enforcement procedures, and in violation of the City of College Park’s own high speed pursuit procedures, in failing to immediately terminate the pursuit for a minor traffic violation, authorizing the imposition of liability pursuant to provisions of O.C.G.A. §40-6-6(d)(2).  The City of College Park’s high speed pursuit procedures only authorized pursuits for (1) a serious crime; or (2) where the suspect, if allowed to escape, would present a danger to human life or cause serious injury or death.  Plaintiff contended that neither criteria was met in this high speed pursuit, and presented expert testimony that the actions of the responsible College Park officers constituted a reckless disregard for proper law enforcement procedures, not only under the guidelines of the City of College Park, but also under generally recognized standards adopted by the Georgia Municipal Association. 

Defendant City of College Park contended that this pursuit only lasted approximately one minute and 43 seconds, and it thus did not constitute a hazard to motorists, and was justified under the circumstances.  The City noted that the radar established that Mr. Surry was traveling 79 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone, or 24 miles per hour above the posted speed limit, which constituted reckless driving, authorizing this brief pursuit.  The City also presented expert testimony suggesting that College Park’s high speed pursuit policies were more rigorous than those of the average police department, and did not represent the general law enforcement standard against which the Georgia statute requiring a “reckless disregard for police procedures” should be measured.  The City further argued that as Georgia has eliminated joint and several liability, the primary apportionment of liability would fall on the wrongdoer, Darren Surry, who was driving on a suspended license and had a prior record of hit and run offenses and other criminal violations.  The City asserted that a jury would likely find the fleeing wrongdoer primarily responsible, even if some limited liability were found against it.

Plaintiff had incurred approximately $300,000.00 in medical expenses, and was disabled from his employment, where he had been earning about $70,000.00 per year.  He had attempted to return to his job after being fitted with a prosthesis, but was unable to fully do so, and the evidence reflected that he would likely be limited in future employment positions.  Plaintiff presented the testimony from a life care planner and economist, who stated that he would face substantial future medical expenses and lost wages in excess of $1 million.

After the parties’ Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment were denied, and the Plaintiff had stipulated the case to a jury trial calendar, the claim was settled on September 29, 2008, for $3 million, following a full day of mediation.

[Timothy J. Wilson was represented by ATLA and GTLA members Clark H. McGehee, Esq., and William C. Lanham, Esq., of the Atlanta, Georgia, law firm of Johnson & Ward]

 

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