The estate of a woman fatally struck during a police pursuit was awarded $2.5 million in a settlement.
An Anderson, S.C. bystanders was killed during a law enforcement vehicle pursuit that was in violation of Anderson Police Department (APD) policy and procedure.
APD employees Joseph Chapman and Zack Lucas initiated a vehicle pursuit for a suspected property crime and minor traffic violation. The pursuit was supervised by APD employee Craig Gardner. According to plaintiff attorney Samuel R. Clawson Jr., APD went on to conduct a lengthy high-speed vehicle pursuit that included numerous instances of reckless driving by the fleeing suspect, which were mirrored by the pursuing officers. The vehicle pursuit lasted approximately 11 minutes and traversed approximately 14.7 miles.
According to Clawson, it was alleged that APD officers committed numerous violations of APD policy, SC Code Ann. § 56-5-760, and 42 U.S.C. §1983 with respect to the initiation, continuation, supervision and failure to terminate the vehicle pursuit.
The pursuit ended after Gardner requested that the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office deploy stop sticks. Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) deployed the stop sticks in violation of ACSO policy and procedure, as well as in violation of manufacturer instructions. As the fleeing driver swerved to avoid the stop sticks, he lost control of the vehicle and fatally collided with bystander Brenda Wilson, as she was walking in her front yard towards her mailbox.
Husband of the deceased, Greg Wilson, as the representative of the estate, presented a claim for wrongful death on behalf of the statutory beneficiaries, as well as individual claims for loss of consortium and bystander liability.
The primary issue in the litigation was the application of 42 U.S.C. §1983 to the alleged Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process and whether the individual law enforcement officers would be shielded from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity.
The secondary issue in the litigation was the application of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, specifically the definition of occurrence as it is used in the Act’s cap on actual damages. Plaintiff argued that there were multiple occurrences because there were multiple distinct acts of negligence, including improper initiation of the pursuit, failure of the purchasing officers to terminate the pursuit, failure of the supervisor to terminate the pursuit, improper use of tire deflation devices, and negligence in the hiring, training, and supervision of employees.
The case settled for $2,500,000. Of this amount, $2,000,000 was paid by the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund on behalf of the APD and $500,000 was paid by the Insurance Reserve Fund on behalf of the ACSO.
Type of Action: Law Enforcement Vehicle Pursuit
Injuries Alleged: Wrongful Death, Loss of Consortium, Bystander Liability
Name of Case: Gregory Wilson, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Brenda Wilson vs. City of Anderson, Anderson County, Joseph Chapman, Zack Lucas, Craig Gardner, B.D. Jackson
Court: U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina, Anderson Division
Tried Before: N/A
Judge or Mediator: Mediator Karl Folkens
Special Damages: No economic loss claimed
Verdict or Settlement: Settlement $2,500,000
Date of Settlement: July 26, 2022
Most Helpful Experts: Geoff Alpert (police practices)
Attorneys for Plaintiffs: Samuel R. Clawson Jr. and Christy R. Fargnoli of Clawson Fargnoli Utsey, LLC in Charleston and Steven M. Krause of the Law Offices of Steven M. Krause, P.A. in Anderson
Attorneys for Defendants: Withheld
Were Liability and Damages Contested: Yes
Person Submitting Report: Samuel R. Clawson, Jr. and Christy R. Fargnoli