The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently described the large liabilities faced by Georgia state and county governments for the disastrous results of high-speed chases that take the lives of innocent motorists and pedestrians. Deaths resulting from high-speed chases have made headlines recently as the widow of one man killed by a police cruiser took Gwinnett County to trial in a $5 million lawsuit.
In 2006, responding to a call for backup, twenty-five-year old officer James Stoudenmire was rushing down U.S. Highway 78 in Snellville going 80 mph—about 34 mph over the speed limit—and without lights or sirens on, when he slammed into 52-year-old Willie Allen Sargent Jr.’s car as he turned left across the lane of oncoming traffic. Sargent died at the scene, leaving a widow, Faustina Sargent, and her two sons. The lawsuit she filed against Gwinnett recently went to trial and resulting in a judgment of $2 million in her favor.
Officer Stoudenmire had not been on the force long and had no history of reckless driving. Moreover, he had just completed basic training, which included training in vehicle safety. The Gwinnett Police Department has insisted that the policies it has in place are sufficient to ensure that officers are properly trained and able to ensure public safety. Stoudenmire was reprimanded and temporarily suspended after the accident that killed Sargent, but eventually was forced to resign after arrested on a DUI charge.
Just months ago, Kathy Porter, the wife of Jeff Porter, an athletic trainer for the Atlanta Braves, was killed on New Year’s Eve when Georgia State Patrol Trooper Donald Crozier crashed into her while rushing in response to a call for backup. Crozier had previously been involved in four crashes in which he was held at fault. Like, Stoudenmire, Crozier too was speeding. While he claimed he had his sirens and lights on, witnesses reported that they did not hear any siren. Crozier was fired following this last collision and faces possible criminal charges.
While police officers may break traffic rules in emergency situations, they are nevertheless required to use caution and take care not to place pedestrians and motorists at undue risk. When they fail to do so, and especially when they act recklessly and past negligence or recklessness has been documented, county and state government may be held responsible for injuries and damage that they cause.
If you have been injured by the reckless or unlawful conduct of law enforcement, our Georgia trial lawyers may be able to help you recover compensation that will allow you and your family to begin on the road recovery and a new start.
Page Pate is an accomplished trial lawyer with over 25 years of experience in criminal defense, civil litigation, and whistleblower representation. Page is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, Top 100 Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, and named to the list of Super Lawyers for the past 15 consecutive years. Page is a frequent expert legal analyst for local and national media and has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia Law School. Read Page’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Page on Twitter @pagepate and on Linkedin.