$517,486 Police Misconduct – Arbitration Award
Personal Injuries: Fractured orbit (bones around eye), loss of sense of smell, and psychological injury of post traumatic stress disorder
Amount of Award: $410,565.00 – compensatory damages $106,921.00 – attorneys fees and expenses
Special Damages: Medical Bills – $19,665.00
Plaintiff’s Lawyer: Marc L. Breakstone, Boston, Massachusetts
Arbitrator: Paul Cummings, Esq.
Court: U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts
Other Useful Information
Plaintiff was a 22 year old college student who suffered personal injury after he was struck by a police officer between the eyes with a heavy duty “MAG” flashlight as he was standing still with his arms raised. The attack occurred after plaintiff and several friends ran from the scene of a late night disturbance in a North Shore residential neighborhood. Immediately prior to the attack, plaintiff had run from the police around the side of a house. When he realized he had done nothing wrong, he started walking back to the street and observed a uniformed officer running towards him. He immediately stopped walking and raised his hands as if to surrender. The defendant, a patrolman with the defendant police department ran at plaintiff and delivered a severe blow between plaintiff’s eyes.
No charges were brought against plaintiff who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. When asked by another officer at the scene what happened to cause injury to his face, plaintiff, in fear of his life, stated “I fell.” The defendant said nothing to the contrary at the scene. Two weeks later, the defendant officer filed a false report in which he stated that he and the plaintiff accidentally collided in a dark alley. The defendant failed to mention in his report that he was holding his “MAG” flashlight even though he told his supervisor that the flashlight might have come into contact with plaintiff’s face. The defendant admitted in his deposition that he failed to mention the flashlight in his report because he was nervous about a prior incident in which he had been sued for civil rights violations by another civilian who had been beaten with the same flashlight. Defendant was suspended without pay for five days for filing a false report. No criminal charges were brought against him because there were no independent witnesses to the attack.
Plaintiff suffered comminuted nasal and orbital fractures. He underwent plastic and reconstructive surgery which left him with microplates and screws in his face. He was left with a permanent loss of sense of smell and a significant loss of sense of taste. Plaintiff also suffered significant post-traumatic stress disorder and neuropsyschological deficits which significantly interfere with his ability to function in employment and social settings.
Two weeks before trial, counsel for the parties agreed to submit the entire case to binding arbitration. It was agreed that in the event of an award of damages on the §1983 claim, the arbitrator would also make an award attorney’s fees and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The insurance policy limits of the defendant city were in the amount of $500,000.00. The total award paid in the case was $517,486.00. The portion of the award over the policy limits was paid pursuant to the “supplemental coverage” provision of the policy which covered “costs taxed against the insured.” Plaintiff argued successfully that an award of attorney’s fees and expenses pursuant to § 1988 constituted “costs taxed” against the defendant.