Court dismisses negligence claim against officer; sends intentional harm case to jury
Vera Garlick sued Benjamin Harless, a police officer, after she allegedly suffered injury at his hands. Garlick responded to the scene where her son had been arrested after a traffic stop and while Harless was arranging the impoundment of her vehicle (which the son had been driving). A dispute occurred between the two with each person describing the event completely differently. On-board video did not resolve the evidentiary dispute.
The woman argued that she was given permission to enter the officer's vehicle to calm down, but was then violently ejected from the vehicle by Harless. Harless argued that she was never invited into his cruiser and that he only used minimal force, for his own safety, to prevent Garlick from reaching into her purse. The trial judge denied summary disposition, holding that the case presented a classical credibility dispute for resolution by the jury.
Surprisingly, the Court of Appeals partially reversed. The judges held that no reasonable person could believe that Harless was guilty of gross negligence that had "caused" injury to Garlick, because her own delay in exiting the vehicle was the primary cause of her injuries. Nevertheless, the higher court conceded that if the jury accepted her account of the incident, it could reasonably conlude that the officer was guilty of an intentional infliction of injury.
On that basis, Garlick can have a trial, however, she can only recove her damages if she proves actual malice by the officer.