The state of Georgia has reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of a motorcyclist killed in a 2008 collision with a state patrol car in Lumpkin County.
The settlement in the death of 57-year-old Donald Teague signals a change from the protection Georgia’s law enforcement officers have traditionally had from liability claims through sovereign immunity laws, the family’s attorney said.
Russ Willard, a spokesman for attorney general Thurbert Baker, this week confirmed that the case was settled during mediation between Teague’s family and Georgia’s Office of Administrative Affairs.
W. Newton Moore, the attorney for Jolene, Meagan and David Teague, said this week that while the exact financial terms were confidential, "we did very well in our settlement."
On Oct. 5, 2008, Trooper John Shannon Carroll was patrolling Ga. 11 in Lumpkin County near the Union County line when he made a U-turn in his patrol car order to pursue a speeding motorcyclist. Carroll turned his car into the path of Teague’s Harley-Davidson Low-Rider, which collided with the cruiser’s passenger-side door. Teague died at the scene.
In May, a Lumpkin County grand jury declined to indict the trooper on a misdemeanor charge of second-degree homicide by vehicle.
Teague’s family gave the Department of Public Safety notice they might file a wrongful death suit, but the case was settled without a lawsuit. Moore, the family’s attorney, pointed to a Georgia Supreme Court ruling in March as one reason he was able to reach a settlement with the state in Teague’s death.
This year, the state’s high court found that certain negligent law enforcement actions are no longer absolutely protected by sovereign immunity.
In a 5-2 decision, the court found that while the state is immune from liability for incidents that occur during the implementation of a policy, such as a police pursuit, it is not immune if an employee implements policy in a negligent manner.
Justice George Carley wrote in Department of Public Safety v. Davis, "It is undisputed that the Department of Public Safety has a policy of detecting and apprehending individuals who exceed the speed limit by use of radar and motor vehicles. Such a policy decision is not subject to an attack of negligence under [the Tort Claims] Act. This policy, however, obviously does not include directing the officer to strike any vehicle in his path in
apprehending a speeder."
The high court’s decision was unrelated to Teague’s death but was applicable in the case and likely led to the relatively quick settlement, Moore said.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety, through a spokesman, had no comment.