DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Massachusetts man who assaulted his former wife when they resided in Abbot has been ordered to pay her $50,000 for causing pain, suffering and emotional distress. The judgment was handed down earlier this month by Superior Court Justice William Anderson.
Jennifer Erb, who filed the lawsuit against her former husband, Darryl Erb, called the ruling a huge precedent for women and men who have suffered from domestic abuse.
“It’s a huge, huge step for this movement, and to come at this time of year when we’re recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I just think it’s amazing,” Erb said Wednesday. She noted that “judges normally don’t find for emotional distress” in such cases, “so what Judge Anderson did was really groundbreaking.”
Cynthia Freeman-Cyr, resource coordinator for Womancare, a Dover-Foxcroft-based organization working to end domestic violence, said Thursday the implications from Erb’s case are great for victims of domestic violence. “It’s just another way that our justice system is responding to the needs of people affected by domestic violence,” she said. “It’s outstanding.”
Erb filed a civil lawsuit in December 2007 against Darryl Erb after he pleaded no contest in the criminal case to two counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief involving the domestic abuse. He was sentenced to six months in jail with all but 30 days suspended on each of the two assault charges and was sentenced to 30 days for criminal mischief. He also was placed on probation for two years and was ordered to pay restitution.
In an interview with the Bangor Daily News last year, Erb said she and Darryl Erb had married on July 4, 2005, and the abuse started a few months later. In an incident in May 2007, she said, her husband grabbed and pulled her off a bed, dragged her into a hall, threw her against a wall and slapped her face, later deflating the tires on her vehicle to prevent her from fleeing.
In another assault, on May 21, 2007, Erb said her husband straddled her in the front seat of their vehicle and started choking her. The couple had been on their way home and had taken a shortcut through a logging road when the vehicle got stuck, Erb recalled. Her husband, who was angry over the situation, hammered her head against a window and pulled out some of her hair. He also pulled out a knife, cut off her belt and the front of her jeans in one motion, and threatened to rape her, she said.
The victim said she attempted to flee and when she did, she fell and hurt her ankle. Erb said her husband caught up with her and yanked her around, threw her onto the ground and bit her on the cheek, eventually threatening to kill her. Since there was no one around to help her, Erb said, she went home, where the abuse continued.
When her husband left the room later that night, Erb said, she called 911, and when police arrived they found her face covered in blood and mud. A paramedic was called to treat her bite, and she later ended up in the emergency room for her other wounds, she said.
In his response to the civil suit, Darryl Erb denied the earlier May assault and said the pair had an argument on May 21 in which both struck the other. He denied he choked his wife, hammered her head, pulled her hair, bit her on the cheek, or threatened to rape or kill her. It is unknown whether he intends to appeal the ruling.
Newport lawyer Charles Cox, who encouraged Erb to file the civil suit, called the ruling “unique.” He said if two men get into a bar fight and one is injured, the injured man is likely to sue for damages, so a victim in a domestic abuse case is no different.
“Hopefully, it [seeking compensation for assault and battery and emotional distress] will become more popular because I think it does have some deterrent effect,” Cox said. “The hope is that these people should pay for this kind of conduct; a person gets what they deserve. You reap what you sow, and if you’re going to treat people poorly, it’s going to cost you in a number of ways.” Domestic violence is a big problem and this is another tool to deter it, he said.
Erb, who now works for Womancare, agreed. “If there’s just one guy that stops and thinks about it, it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s just one more step, it’s actually getting a court to recognize that I don’t have to be broken up and, you know, completely beyond repair to recognize that this was an atrocity.”