CHARLOTTESVILLE — University of Virginia student Elizabeth Daly has filed notice of a claim against the state stemming from her wrongful arrest in April by state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents who mistook water for beer.
Lawyers for Daly, 20, of Henrico County, lodged a complaint against the state seeking unspecified damages, according to Don LeMond, director of the Virginia Department of the Treasury division that manages certain civil claims against the commonwealth.
“Not that many [complaints] are big issues like this one; most are relatively innocuous,” LeMond said. “Most of our claims are transportation related, or come from prisoners.”
LeMond, who oversees the department’s division of risk management, said his office fields hundreds of these notices each year from people who say they have been damaged in some way by a state entity or employee.
The state is protected from liability in most instances by sovereign immunity, a doctrine with roots in English common law that shields state agencies and employees from civil actions, but Daly’s case comes under the Virginia Tort Claims Act, a provision that allows an individual to hold the state liable in limited circumstances. Daly filed the notice of tort claim last week.
“The law firm she is using is very experienced in dealing with the commonwealth,” LeMond said.
Daly’s lead counsel, James Thorsen of Marchant, Thorsen, Honey, Baldwin & Meyer, has won several multimillion-dollar verdicts for his clients, including settlements against the state, according to a biography on the firm’s site. He did not respond to a request for comment.
The pending civil action is the latest development in a case that has plagued ABC since the public learned a half-dozen plainclothes agents surrounded Daly and two sorority sisters in her SUV in the Barracks Road Shopping Center parking lot.
One agent drew his gun and another tried to break a window on the vehicle with a flashlight, according to an ABC account. Frightened and unsure whether the agents were law enforcement personnel, Daly fled in the SUV, grazing two agents as she drove away. She was arrested on three felony counts of assaulting law enforcement officers and eluding police, and spent a night and afternoon in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Prosecutors withdrew charges against Daly in June and her record was expunged in October. State police and internal reviews of her arrest led ABC to implement 15 policy and procedural changes.
The claim launches a dialogue between Daly’s lawyers and the state attorney general’s office that is often resolved out of court, LeMond said.
“The law is set up this way to avoid the state having to go to court all the time,” he said.
The dollar amount of a settlement would generally be subject to disclosure, unless a “confidentiality agreement is imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction or otherwise required by law,” Virginia code states.