Posted on Aug 22, 2006
Jury awards domestic violence victim $550,000
By the Associated Press
August 18, 2006
FAIRFAX, Va. -- A man has been ordered to pay his former wife $550,000 in damages stemming from a beating she received in their Fairfax Station home nearly three years ago.
A civil court jury found Ernest John Lofgren liable for Deborah Martin's extensive medical bills and emotional damages caused by the Sept. 17, 2003, beating, The Washington Post reported in Friday's editions.
The couple married in April 2002, but separated in November 2004. Their divorce was finalized in February.
The Post reported that Lofgren pleaded guilty to assault and battery charges and served eight weeks in jail for beating Martin in 2003.
The attack left Martin with a broken cheekbone, broken nose and dislocated jaw, as well as severe dental injuries. She also had to cope with the embarrassment of being a victim of domestic violence.
"The shame level is incredibly high. That's how all your victims feel," Martin said. "Maybe that's why a lot of women don't pursue personal injury cases."
When the incident occurred, Lofgren, 41, was working as a software developer with Northrup Grumman Corp. and earning $93,000 a year. He no longer is employed there. Lofgren did not testify at the two-day trial and was prevented from presenting a defense because he did not respond to pretrial filings.
A court commissioner and a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge who presided over aspects of the couple's divorce case last fall found Lofgren responsible for his actions. He testified that Martin had goaded him.
"The Commissioner finds the wife to be far more credible on the events of that day," Commissioner Brian M. Hirsch wrote after a pre-divorce hearing. "Even if ... the Commissioner were to believe the husband's version of the events, his response to the wife, a woman of such slight build (i.e. 115 pounds), was grossly disproportionate to what the husband alleged her to have done."
Following the divorce trial, Fairfax Circuit Judge Gaylord L. Finch Jr. ordered Lofgren to pay Martin $2,000 a month in spousal support and $10,000 for her attorney's fees.
In the civil case, Martin's attorneys sought $1 million from Lofgren, including $650,000 in actual damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. Jurors opted for $351,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 in actual damages. The punitive award was reduced by $1,000 to comply with a state cap on such awards.
"We did want to send a message that no matter what the circumstance, nobody deserves that kind of treatment," juror Cynthia S. Deatherage told The Post.
Another juror cited what he described as "cruel and inhumane" treatment Lofgren subjected Martin to during their marriage.
"I have a problem with frivolous lawsuits, but I didn't feel this was frivolous. I felt she had a right to ask for compensation for the damage he did to her," said Carey A. Williams, following the jury's ruling.
While Martin says she still fears Lofgren, she felt it was important to tell her story. She told The Post that she wants "women to know there is help out there. There are legal ways to help yourself, and that they need to get out of their situations."