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Memphis Police Officer Settles Negligence Suit Against USA

City of Memphis Police Department officer Michael Cockerell and the United States of America agreed to settle a negligence claim brought by Cockerell relating to an obstacle course accident in April, 1998 at a Federal Bureau of Prisons training facility.

On April 14, 1998 Cockerell claimed that he and his TACT Squad attended training at the Federal Correctional Center Memphis, Tennessee obstacle course. While on the course, Cockerell allegedly fell approximately 20 to 25 feet while ascending a rope climbing obstacle, which, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, resulted in him "sustain[ing] a fracture of the transverse process of the L3 vertebra in his back and three broken ribs." Cockerell alleged that the accident was a result of negligence on the part of the Bureau of Prisons and the United States of America, which had "provided no safety devices or precautions whatsoever." He subsequently sued over his suffering severe, painful, and disabling injuries to his back during the fall, which resulted in, according to the complaint, "a loss of earning capacity, past, present, and future."

Officer Cockerell sued for $1.25 million, but settled the case for $50,000 in May, 2001. The United States of America admitted no liability, which is typical when settling such cases. The Bureau of Prisons has not publicly announced if such sharing of obstacle courses with local law enforcement has continued following the settlement.

Despite the fact that the settlement agreement specifically allowed public disclosure of its terms, it took a 12-year battle with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for Prison Legal News to obtain records of this settlement.

Sources: Cockerell v. USA, No. 99-3019(GB)(W.D. Tenn. filed Nov. 17, 1999).

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Related legal case

Cockerell v. USA