A former Alaska State Trooper who was involved in two major accidents was found not responsible for the harm caused to him by the first crash in February 2012.
Thad Hamilton had been responding to an late night domestic violence call in Nikiski when his 2009 Dodge Charger collided with a 2003 Dodge pickup driven by Rodney Peterkin, a Soldotna resident who was 42 at the time. The men were both driving northbound, and Peterkin made a left turn as Hamilton attempted to pass him, according to a complaint filed by Hamilton’s attorneys.
Hamilton’s civil case against Peterkin was originally assigned in 2014, and the case was disposed last week after a trial in superior court, according to online court records. In a complaint filed in August 2015 against both Peterkin and the driver involved in Hamilton’s other accident in 2015, Hamilton and his attorneys claimed that Peterkin “failed to keep a proper look out,” and “operated his motor vehicle in a distracted manner.”
“Hamilton’s vehicle struck the snow embankment of the west side of the Kenai Spur Highway and thereafter rolled multiple times, resulting in Hamilton’s serious injury,” the complaint states.
Peterkin was also treated at a hospital for non-life threatening injuries following the crash.
In a special verdict, a jury found that Peterkin was negligent and that his negligence was a “substantial factor in causing harm to … Hamilton,” according to the verdict. Hamilton’s complaint claims he experienced “pain, suffering, and anxiety” along with medical expenses and loss of wages.
The jury found Peterkin was 70 percent responsible for the harm caused to Hamilton, that the Alaska Department of Public Safety was 30 percent responsible and that Hamilton himself was not responsible.
“I argued to the jury, because I believed it, that the issues were more important than the case itself,” said Michael Schneider, one of Hamilton’s attorneys. “The case involved an emergency trooper response to a dangerous domestic situation, and if your emergency responders down there are going to be able to do their work, they’ve got to trust the public to get out of their way when they see them coming.”
Schneider said he was sure the jury worked hard on the case, and that there were likely divisions among its members when it came to the issue of Hamilton’s speed. He was traveling up to 142 miles per hour when the crash occurred, Schneider said.
The jury totaled Hamilton’s losses in past and future medical expenses, other past and future economic loss, and future non-economic loss to be just more than $1.9 million. Schneider said he believes the final judgement against Peterkin will be in the range of $1.5-$1.6 million. Since the Department of Public safety, found to be partially responsible for his harm, was Hamilton’s employer at the time, their portion cannot be paid to him, Schneider said.
“I think the verdict just sends an important message that when you see lights or hear sirens, just pull to the right and stop,” he said.
The jury did find that Hamilton was negligent, but that his negligence was not a substantial factor in harm caused by the accident.
Peterkin’s attorney could not be reached by press time Tuesday.
Hamilton was involved in another collision in May 2015 at around Mile 99 of the Sterling Highway. The driver of a 1991 Oldsmobile Bravada, Edmond Mallette, had forgotten to make his planned turn off the highway, and turned left on the road to make a U-turn in front of Hamilton, who was traveling southbound responding to an emergency, according to Hamilton’s complaint.