A tough loss

On September 21, 2011, Morgan Harty was pulled over for not wearing her seatbelt. Officer Thorsen asked my client to take a field sobriety test, and she refused, as she had a legal right to do. She offered instead to take a breathalyzer. Officer Thorsen called for cover and Officer Villanti arrived at the scene. Thorsen told Villanti that Ms. Harty was “not cooperating.” Harty testified both officers approached her car, asked her if she was going to step out of the vehicle and she again refused. Officer Villanti then told her she was under arrest for DUI and not cooperating with an officer, and the officers simultaneously reached in and pulled both her arms out of the car door window, pinning her body against the door. (The officers claimed they told Ms. Harty several times that she was under arrest and she refused to get out of the vehicle prior to using force.)

Officer Villanti had a video/audio recording device on his patrol car, and a moment before he reached in to grab Ms. Harty, he pushed the button on his belt to activate the video. The video runs constantly, and so it captures 30 seconds of prior video, but only captures the audio from the moment the button is pushed. Ms. Harty testified – and the video shows – Officer Villanti pulling and twisting her left arm out the window. Harty then cried, “Ow! You’re hurting my arm!”  Villanti pulled and twisted harder. Harty screamed again and then again, as Villanti broke her arm. Ms. Harty was 23 years old and weighed 115 pounds at the time of the incident. An hour after she was arrested, Ms. Harty’s blood alcohol was .03 (less than half the legal limit) and she was released with a seat belt ticket and a broken arm.

We brought a single claim of battery, and the only question for the jurors was whether the force used was unreasonable. We lost 9 to 3. Ms. Harty suffered a malunion of her ulna at the wrist and she has daily chronic pain. Orthopedic doctor Stephen Thomas testified she will eventually develop arthritis and will probably require a wrist replacement. Psychologist Keith Campbell testified that Ms. Harty was suffering from PTSD as a result of this incident. Campbell testified that she met all three of the cluster of symptom categories, including (1) horror and helplessness, (2) hyper-arousal, and (3) numbing and avoiding.

Ms. Harty worked as a server at the time of this incident, and due to her wrist pain, she was unable to continue serving, so we made a claim for $75,000 in lost earning capacity, and the testimony from the operations manager at Jake’s Grill was that servers make twice what hostesses make. We were seeking total economic and non-ecomonic damages of  $528,309.19.