Chattanooga wins lawsuit over high-speed chase

Chattanooga wins lawsuit over high-speed chase

November 18th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Chattanooga won a lawsuit Thursday filed 10 years ago by a man who was struck by a suspect's vehicle during a high-speed chase by a Chattanooga police officer.

John Abrell, 46, testified in a trial last week that he suffers from chronic pain and must take pain medication routinely. After the accident, Abrell spent seven days at Erlanger hospital with a slight concussion, but no surgery. The suit was seeking up to $130,000.

"Hopefully, this will be the end of a very unfortunate and tragic incident that has been in litigation for the past 10 years," Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said.

"I'm glad that after reviewing the evidence and hearing testimony from all involved, the officer was found to be in compliance and his actions reasonable under the circumstances. Although the city and the officer were not found to be at fault n this incident, at the end of the day, there are no winners in a case like this."

On Aug. 09, 2000, Officer Andrew Hilton pursued a suspected stolen vehicle for about 95 seconds, mainly on Amnicola Highway, records show. The vehicle, a black Honda Accord stolen from Brainerd the previous day, struck a vehicle driven by Abrell at the intersection of Wisdom Street and Amnicola.

The Honda, which was driven by Charles Robinson, who was then 23, reached about 100 mph during the pursuit with Hilton.

"Given the distance traversed and the speed of the black Honda, it is believed that the accident would have happened even if Officer Hilton had ceased pursuit once he got back on Amnicola Highway," Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas wrote in an order issued Thursday.

Robinson pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, evading arrest, theft of property, aggravated assault for causing the crash, resisting stop and altering the vehicle identification number on the vehicle. He received up to three years as a sentence for one of the charges, according to court records.

Abrell's attorney, Brent James, pointed to a line in Robinson's arrest report which stated the, "pursuit was extremely dangerous and put numerous citizens of Chattanooga in harm's way," during the trial.

Thomas responded in his order, "The court's decision is based on the totality of the facts, not a single sentence contained in an Affidavit of Complaint."

In 2000, the Chattanooga Police Department's policy on pursuing a vehicle required having probable cause for an arrest and weighing external factors such as traffic and road conditions.

Since then, the policy has been modified and officers now pursue a vehicle if the driver is suspected of committing a violent felony or is suspected of DUI.