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Supreme Court: Suit against trooper wrongfully dismissed




JACKSON -- The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock as a state judge wrongfully dismissed an automobile-negligence suit filed in Monroe County against an Alabama state trooper without letting a jury hear the case. 


The high court said a jury should decide whether the Alabama police officer recklessly chased across the state line an elusive driver, who fled into Monroe County and crashed into another driver. That motorist was hurt and picked up by an ambulance, which also had a wreck while taking him to the hospital. 


"The record reveals numerous triable issues of fact which must be submitted to the jury," Justice George Carlson wrote for the Supreme Court. 


"Even some of the undisputed facts before this court are susceptible to more than one interpretation, and therefore (Aycock) erred in granting summary judgment." 


Aycock dismissed the lawsuit in August 2007, just weeks before the U.S. Senate in October confirmed her appointment by then-President Bush as a U.S. District judge based in Aberdeen.  


The injured driver -- Jerry Wayne Duckworth -- had sued the state of Alabama, state Trooper Bart Walker and the fleeing driver. However, Aycock decided there was no evidence that could indicate Walker was reckless in his pursuit. The judge reviewed a videotape of the chase taken by a camera in the state police car. 


The Supreme Court voted 8-1 to send the lawsuit back to Monroe County Circuit Court for a jury trial. The majority of justices said jurors could agree Walker should have stopped the high-speed interstate police chase on what was a curvy, hilly road.  


"When combining the road conditions with the other factors at issue, reasonable minds could conclude that Trooper Walker should have ceased pursuit when road conditions deteriorated," Carlson said. 


Walker was going after David Carrol Warren, who fled from the police officer when he tried to cite him for not wearing a seatbelt and having a broken windshield, according to court records. 


The six-minute, six-mile police chase ended when Warren collided into Duckworth on Vernon Road. Duckworth suffered broken bones and lacerations. 


He also sued the ambulance operator -- Emergystat -- whose driver wrecked in transporting Duckworth, but they settled his claims of negligence out of court.  


Supreme Court Justice Bubba Pierce was the lone dissenter in this appeal. He said the Alabama state trooper did not cause Warren to crash into Duckworth''s car and should not be sued for rightfully doing his job.  


"In order to perform these tasks, a police officer must have the ability reasonably to pursue individuals who violate or are suspected of violating the law," Pierce wrote. 


It varies how often each year the state Supreme Court overturns lower court judges'' decisions.  


Statistics for 2008 were not available. In 2007, of the 141 direct civil appeals decided on their merits by the Supreme Court, 64 (45 percent) were affirmed and 77 (55 percent) were reversed, according to the court''s annual report. Of the 156 general civil appeals decided on the merits in 2006, 83 (53 percent) were affirmed and 73 (47 percent) were reversed. Of the 176 appeals decided in 2005, 72 (41 percent) were affirmed and 104 (59 percent) were reversed.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment Interested commented at 5/29/2009 11:08:00 AM:

Looks like someone is just trying to abuse the system for monetary gain by suing anyone and everyone.


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