Suit says plaintiff has PTSD
$1.3 million is new total in ‘Mell v. Phil’
Melissa “Mell” Crawford, the woman suing Blackstone Town Manager Philip Vannoorbeeck and the Town, has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “as a direct result” of Vannoorbeeck’s “unwarranted and reprehensible actions” last year on the sidewalk in front of Town Hall.
That new claim is included in an amended complaint filed Sept. 5th in Amelia Circuit Court.
Ms. Crawford earlier this year filed a $2.85 million lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Amelia County, where Vannoorbeeck lives and where he served from 1998-2006 as Amelia County Administrator.
Judge Paul Cella in July dismissed five of her six counts, but allowed Ms. Crawford’s attorney, Thomas Moran of Glen Allen, to amend and refile two of them: those alleging Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
Judge Cella told Moran that Infliction of Emotional Distress “requires a physical injury,” and Moran has responded with more details about his client.
The new claim alleges that in addition to PTSD, Ms. Crawford, a single mother, house painter, and “survivor of domestic abuse,” has suffered “...flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, anxiety for her safety and her child’s safety, paranoia, injury to her reputation and feelings, and loss of sleep.”
According to the amended counts, Ms. Crawford--in addition to PTSD--has been “diagnosed with persistent migraine headaches and ulcers, for which she has sought and obtained medical and psychological treatment on numerous occasions, including but not limited to counseling sessions, hospitalization, and emergency room visits, and has been prescribed various medications to treat the symptoms described above, as well as the extreme psychological effects she suffered and continues to suffer.”
Elm Street Unpleasantries
The suit revolves around Vannoorbeeck’s alleged outburst at Ms. Crawford on Tuesday afternoon, July 19th, on the sidewalk in front of Town Hall, during which he allegedly called her a “(expletive) slut” and “(expletive) redneck” and threatened her by saying, “I could whip your skinny (expletive).”
The suit also alleges that Vannoorbeeck then “pointed his finger directly in her face and “yelled, ‘Don’t (expletive) speak to my kids, don’t (expletive) speak to my wife, and don’t ever (expletive) speak to me.”
Vannoorbeeck last year was found Not Guilty of Assault & Battery in a one-hour bench trial. Vannoorbeeck testified and didn’t deny raising his voice or cursing Ms.
Crawford, but he denied threatening her. The judge said he had no choice but to acquit Vannoorbeeck because the “facts are at loggerheads.” No other witness to the encounter testified.
However, Ms. Crawford’s lawsuit continues to assert, “At least one person other than the parties witnessed the exchange...and heard all utterances made by Mr. Vanoorbeeck.”
The amended claim asserts that Ms. Crawford “has been harmed in the conduct of her business and affairs, including loss of income. In addition, Ms. Crawford has been assaulted, threatened, and made to be afraid of the powers and actions of the defendant... These effects are so severe and extreme that no reasonable person could be expected to endure them.”
$1.3 Million Suit
The two amended counts each seek $550,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for a total of $1.1 million, in addition to a $200,000 Battery count that Judge Cella already has allowed to move forward. The Battery count involves alleged intentional tobacco spit from Vannoorbeeck’s mouth onto Ms. Crawford’s face during the unpleasant encounter. That count alleges that Ms. Crawford wiped her face while Vannoorbeeck berated her, and that Vannoorbeeck continued to spray tobacco juice onto her face.
The suit notes that Ms. Crawford stands 5’ 7” tall and is of slender build, that Vannoorbeeck stands 6’ 3” tall and is of heavy build, and that Vannoorbeeck was aware that Ms. Crawford is a domestic abuse survivor.
“Mr. Vannoorbeeck had the specific purpose of inflicting emotional distress and knew, or should have known, that emotional distress would likely result from his actions, particularly given his knowledge of Ms. Crawford’s past and his position of authority over Ms. Crawford.
“Mr. Vannoorbeeck also wields considerable authority over Ms. Crawford as the Town Manager where she resides and a person who has the ability to cause the Town to provide or deny governmental services to her.”
“Decency And Morality”
“Mr. Vannoorbeeck’s conduct was outrageous and intolerable in that it offends against the generally accepted standards of decency and morality in the Town of Blackstone” and “would cause reasonable members of the community of the Town of Blackstone to categorize his behavior as ‘outrageous.’”
No ‘Mea Culpa’
Town Council last year suspended Vannoorbeeck for two weeks without pay, ordered him to undergo anger management counseling, and also ordered him to apologize to Ms. Crawford. Council later rescinded its apology requirement.
The Town remains a codefendant in the three remaining counts because, the suit alleges, “The Town of Blackstone...ratified the actions of Mr. Vannoorbeeck.”