A Buffalo woman who claimed she suffered emotional and physical problems after she was falsely accused of shoplifting has been paid $82,500 in damages, her attorney said Thursday.
A jury awarded her the money over a year ago because she was falsely accused of taking a calculator three years ago from a Hills Department Store.
Following an unsuccessful appeal, the Canton, Mass.-based store chain this week made the payment. A State Supreme Court jury awarded it to Sandra Aguglia, 49, in September 1989 for a September 1986 incident at its Delaware Avenue store in Buffalo, attorney John R. Streb said. The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester two weeks ago unanimously upheld a jury's ruling that Mrs. Aguglia's detention and rude 30-minute interrogation Sept. 5, 1986, was "outrageous conduct."
Mrs. Aguglia was in the store before driving to the airport to pick up her father. After picking up a $3 bottle of perfume from a shelf and putting it back, she went to the store's ladies' room where a female store detective accused her of stealing a calculator, Streb said.
Although Mrs. Aguglia, dressed only in a blouse and jeans, showed the store detective the contents of her purse, she was taken to the store's office and interrogated for 30 minutes by three men and a woman employee before being told she was being "allowed" to leave, Streb said.
Mrs. Aguglia broke down and wept during the "loud" interrogation session and was never charged with any criminal misconduct, Streb said. Store employees never apologized, he added.
The stress of the incident left Mrs. Aguglia, a confidential secretary in the Erie County Social Service's Department's Special Investigation Unit, with a permanent eye condition that makes it painful for her to blink without using several forms of medication daily, Streb said.
Dr. James Aquavella, a Rochester eye doctor who treated Mrs. Aguglia and Dr. George Parlato, a Buffalo psychiatrist retained for e theft claim
the case by the Hills concern, both told the jury the eye problem Mrs. Aguglia will have for the rest of her life is linked to the stress of the store incident. Streb subpoenaed Parlato to testify after learning of his findings.
During arguments before the appellate court in Rochester three months ago, attorneys for Hills contended store employees acted reasonably and insisted Mrs. Aguglia somehow contributed to the mix-up in the store. Streb cited Hills employee publications that offer workers what he called a $20 "bounty" for finding shoplifters. Attorneys for the company said that payment doesn't apply to store detectives like those who questioned Mrs. Aguglia.