A jury sided with a woman who claimed injury by New York City police officers who used unnecessary force following an altercation over her dog’s defecation.
In her appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the plaintiff in Stanczyk v. City of New York, et al. wasn’t disputing the verdict reached by the district court, but rather the amount. The problem, however, was that neither she nor her attorneys had given jurors much upon which to rely.
As our New York injury lawyers understand it, the plaintiff filed her lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging New York City police officers violating her civil rights when they used excessive force in arresting her one evening.
According to her account, she took her dog outside to do its “business.” She says the dog did so. She says the officers approached and told her she hadn’t cleaned up a pile of feces that her dog had just deposited. She told them it wasn’t from her dog. The officers insisted. She protested. An argument ensued. The officers reportedly ordered her to clean it, and she says as she did so, she shouted some profanities, and it got uglier from there. She didn’t have a license for the dog. She kicked the cruiser. There was a struggle. She says they kicked her, struck her in the head, beat her in the breasts and slammed her body into the rear door of the vehicle while attempting to handcuff her.
There was no question the force was excessive. In fact, the department would later approach the plaintiff and attempt to offer her a settlement of $150,000, which she and her legal team declined to accept.
At trial, jurors heard from not only the plaintiff, but also doctors who treated her following the incident. They heard from medical professionals who performed MRIs, surgery, physical therapy, psychological therapy, medical treatments. One doctor testified she had met with the plaintiff more than 50 times for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder stemming directly from the incident, and indicated she planned to continue similar treatments for the condition for at least another year.
Another physician testified the plaintiff needed twice-weekly treatments for depression stemming from the attack.
However, in stark contrast, the plaintiff provided no evidence as to the actual cost of treatment, either past or future, other than a $150 bill she had paid to a single physician on one occasion. She did not submit to the court a single medical bill, and no witnesses were asked about the cost of treatments they provided.
At the time, the judge even alerted plaintiff’s counsel to the potential problem this could create, noting, “There’s not a shred of evidence here, other than she will have some continuing cost. But it’s speculative…”
Still, no further evidence was presented.
In the end, the jury agreed the plaintiff had suffered excessive force (though found for the officers on the claim of false arrest) and awarded her $55,000 in compensatory damages – roughly a third of what the police department had offered in her settlement deal – plus $2,000 in punitive damages.
The plaintiff appealed that finding, but the appellate court ruled there was no reversible error.
The bottom line – and this is applicable whether we’re talking about a case of police brutality or a bicycle accident injury or a slip-and-fall case – is to be prepared. Clearly, the jury believed this plaintiff had laid out a solid case of facts. The officers had acted with excessive force, violated this woman’s rights and caused her substantial injury. She had expert witnesses attesting to it. However, without the proper documentation to substantiate her claims, she lost out on likely hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Stanczyk v. City of New York, et al., June 3, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Insurance Bad Faith in New York Car Accident Claims, May 18, 2014, New York City Car Accident Lawyer Blog