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$390,000 Settles New Jersey False Arrest Suit

by Christopher Zoukis

A lawsuit brought by a woman who was caught up and arrested in a case of mistaken identity has settled for $390,000. The case, brought in the Essex County, New Jersey Superior Court settled during mediation on March 7, 2007.

Three weeks after giving birth by C-section, plaintiff Jane Doe a/k/a Christine H. was at home with her children, recovering from her surgery. Under the authority of a warrant based on bad information, local law enforcement raided the plaintiff's home in the middle of the night. As the officers stormed her home, plaintiff was pushed against a wall, handcuffed and arrested in view of her screaming children. The arrest was part of a large drug bust taking place at multiple locations at the same time.

Plaintiff was taken to jail at a high rate of speed. Because she was not buckled in, she was thrown about the police car, and began bleeding in the area of her C-section scar. After sitting in jail for five hours, authorities realized that they had the wrong person, and the plaintiff was released.

Plaintiff sued, claiming a variety of injuries, including PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks, all of which required ongoing medications. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff provided expert evidence that the investigators were plainly incompetent in misidentifying her -- she was the wrong Christine. The defendants argued that the incorrect identification could not have been plainly incompetent because an assistant prosecutor signed off on the warrant (for the wrong person).

The court ruled as a matter of law that there was no probable cause for issuing the underlying warrant because, of course, it was for the wrong person. The court also determined that the defendant was not entitled to qualified immunity, and ordered a trial on damages only.

Pre-trial mediation with mediator Harold Braff was successful. The parties avoided trial, and the plaintiff, who was represented by West Orange, New Jersey attorney Christopher Kinum of Critchley & Kinum, accepted $390,000 to settle the case.

See: Doe, et al. v. Essex County, et al., Essex County Superior Court, Case No. ESX-L-1933-04 (March 7, 2007)

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