Florida dentist Michael Hammonds, 57, has been arrested for assault and battery after getting into a wrestling match with a patient over a pair of dentures. When police arrived, they found bruise marks on Virginia Graham, 85, who tried to get her dentures back from Hammonds and was allegedly held given her will at the office.
What is interesting is that, but for her age, Graham would likely have been charged as well with assault. According to the report below, Graham starting to scream about Hammond hurting her while adjusting her lower dentures. She reportedly threw the lower partials at Hammonds and demanded a $900 refund. When she tried to get the dentures back, she struggled and Graham bit Hammonds on the arm. She then was prevented by Hammonds from leaving and even tried to climb over the receptionist desk and through the waiting room window.
She could sue civilly for battery or false imprisonment. Generally, courts discourage self-help in recapturing chattel, particularly when you know the name and address of the individual. However, you are allowed to protect property without the use of force calculated to cause serious bodily injury or death. It can be an uncertain line as shown in the case of Kirby v. Foster, 298 F.3d 219 (2002) where an owner was found liable for physically taking back money in a dispute with an employee. However, that was a case of a peaceful taking of the money and a violent response. Here Hammonds could argue that he was attacked first. Yet, the age of Graham is going to be critical.
On false imprisonment, Hammonds could claim that he was holding her for the arrival of the police. In shoplifter cases, such action is allowed so long as it is for a reasonable time and manner. Notably, age is often considered as in the case of Coblyn v. Kennedy’s Inc, 359 Mass. 319, 268 N.E.2d 860 (1971), where a customer (Coblyn) was stopped leaving a store and accused of stealing an ascot. It was his ascot but the 70-year-old man was confronted in public and forced to climb a long set of stairs. He required medical attention from chest pains and sued. In the famous ruling, the court ruled that the Defendant had a privilege to detain Plaintiff if done in a reasonable manner, for a reasonable length of time, and for reasonable grounds in believing that Plaintiff was a shoplifter. The store was found guilty.
Given Graham’s age, Hammonds was taking a considerable risk and would likely be viewed as acting unreasonably. She could have easily had a fatal heart attack in the confrontation and he could be facing a wrongful death case as well as far more serious criminal charges.