Bizarre Bottled Water Arrest Gets UVA Student $212K Settlement

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A bizarre arrest involving bottled water somehow mistaken for beer has landed one student a $212,500 settlement with the state of Virginia.

Elizabeth Daly, a student at University of Virginia, had gone into purchase a carton of sparkling water in April 2013. What she hadn't counted on was state agents swarming her SUV under the assumption that she had illegally purchased beer, reports The Associated Press.

What was going on in Daly's case, and what led to her significant settlement?

Undercover Blunders

Virginia's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (Virginia ABC) was responsible for the officers who ambushed Daly on that fateful day, and Daly sued the state agency in federal court to the tune of $40 million. According to the AP, Daly's lawsuit accused officers of:

  • Attempting to break her SUV window with a flashlight,
  • Demanding that she open the window and not start her car, and
  • Not identifying themselves as officers.

Afraid that the "officers" were actually fake cops (which isn't just an urban myth), Daly and her friends drove away. She was initially charged with evading police and assaulting a police officer with her car, but the AP reports that public outcry quickly led to the charges being dropped.

Daly likely sued the Virginia ABC and the officers involved under Section 1983 for police brutality. Under this federal statute, Daly would need to prove that officers acted unreasonably in violating her civil rights during the undercover bust for sparkling water. If she had taken her case to trial, she would've needed to overcome any claims that officers acted in good faith -- believing honestly that she had illegally purchased beer.

However, none of that is necessary now that the state of Virginia has settled with Daly for $212,500. While this is a small fraction of the millions that Daly was seeking in court, it might go a long way for a college student. Like most settlements, Virginia ABC need not admit any responsibility or wrongdoing in this weird bottled-water bust.

Maybe Daly will put her settlement money toward paying for law school.

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