Hamilton County, former sheriff sued for $4.5 million in wrongful death lawsuit

Contributed photo / Timothy Burt
Contributed photo / Timothy Burt

A woman's pleas for medical care for her brother — who was being held at the Hamilton County jail and later died in custody — were met with snide comments by jail staff, a new lawsuit claims.

Timothy Burt, 66, of Fort Payne, Alabama, was arrested days after driving away in an unattended ambulance outside Erlanger hospital, where he was receiving a mental health evaluation in 2022.

He was sent to jail when arrested, according to the lawsuit, despite doctors' recommendations that Burt remain in a hospital.

The lawsuit was filed by Chattanooga attorneys James McKoon, Andrea Hayduk and Brandy Spurgin-Floyd on behalf of Burt's daughter, Amy Burt, and is seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. The lawsuit names Hamilton County and former county Sheriff Jim Hammond, both in his official capacity and individually, as defendants.

"My dad was the subject of cruel and unfair treatment," Amy Burt said by email. "I hope to hold them accountable for their actions so no other families have to go through what mine has."

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Burt's sister, Donna Kling, previously told the Chattanooga Times Free Press she would call the jail almost daily to plead for medical help for her brother.

"Her pleas were often met with snickers, laughter and snide comments," the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court at Chattanooga said.

The lawsuit further alleges it was six weeks before Burt was evaluated by medical staff at the jail.

On Aug. 27, Burt was rushed to Parkridge Medical Center, where he died of a heart attack, according to a Hamilton County Medical Examiner's report.

The lawsuit alleges Burt's family and attorney were not notified of his death while they tried to get him released.

"His family was left to track his body down at the morgue to recover it for his funeral," the lawsuit said. "At the hands of the county, Mr. Burt suffered terrible pain and agony, mental suffering and injuries due to the conditions imposed by actions of the defendants."

The Sheriff's Office did not respond to an email requesting comment. County Attorney Sharon Milling declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Hammond, who was the sheriff at the time of Burt's death, referred all inquiries to the county attorney's office.

"As sheriff, of course I am the head of the department, but these things have to wind themselves through the legal system, and we just have to see what happens," he said by phone.

Kling previously said Burt wasn't supposed to be in jail but in a hospital. Family members found him wandering on a street alone and confused and took him to Erlanger, she said.

"Once admitted, it is believed he was left in his room unattended, and in his delirious state, he walked out of the hospital and climbed in an ambulance and drove away," the lawsuit said. "Police were notified, he was stopped, and authorities ultimately returned him to Erlanger."

Burt, however, was then released to police custody on July 5, despite the recommendations of doctors, the lawsuit said.

The medical examiner's report also noted Burt had cirrhosis of the liver. The report also noted Burt had necrosis of the area of the brain that recollects memory, according to the National Library of Medicine.

The lawsuit alleges Burt did not receive medical care despite a social worker noting concerns about his mental and physical health.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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