Child daughter congratulates mom and gives her postcard

Some believe driverless cars are the future of transportation. To be sure, driverless cars have certain advantages, one of which is that most car crash deaths are caused by driver error, such as distracted driving and excessive speed. However, driverless cars also raise new legal questions and safety concerns in Connecticut car accident cases and throughout the country.

Charging StationFor example, there is a question of who the “driver” is in a driverless car accident. Depending on the technology involved and the circumstances of the accident, it may be the person behind the wheel, the manufacturer of the vehicle, a rideshare company, or a technology company. While in most car accident cases, the question is whether a driver acted negligently, in driverless car accidents, the question may center around whether there was some design defect in the vehicle or the autonomous technology.

While some of these issues have arisen in the wake of driverless car accidents, as time goes on and the technology becomes more prevalent, courts will be required to tackle myriad unanticipated issues involving the new technology. A recent accident in Arizona was the most recent to involve these issues.

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Even when they may seem straightforward, Connecticut car accident cases can be complex and involve multiple parties. In a recent case, a Connecticut appeals court considered a case against a car dealership after a car with a dealership license plate was involved in an accident.

Car DealershipIn that case, a man bought a car from a car dealership on May 9, 2013. However, since the registration from his previous vehicle had not yet been transferred to the new one, the dealership loaned him a dealer plate number. They signed a loan agreement at around 7 p.m. that evening. On June 8, 2013, at around 3 p.m., the man was driving the car and was in an accident. Three passengers were in the car with him. One of the passengers was killed, and two of them sustained serious injuries. At the time, the car still had the dealer license plate displayed.

Under Connecticut law, a dealership can loan a dealer license plate for 30 days while the registration of the new car is pending. If a dealer complies with the requirements, it is not liable for damages caused by the driver while it displays the loaned licensed plate number.

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While some Connecticut car accidents are results of innocent mistakes that anyone could make, wrong-way accidents are another story, especially when high speeds are involved. Certainly, even a careful motorist can accidentally creep down a one-way street going the wrong direction on occasion; however, high-speed collisions that result from one driver going the wrong way down a one-way road are usually results of gross negligence or recklessness.

Wrong Way SignMore often than not, these accidents involve a driver who is intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol. Even if that is not the case, however, anyone injured in a Connecticut wrong-way accident can still file a personal injury claim against the wrong-way driver, seeking compensation for their injuries.

In order to succeed in a car accident claim, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant driver violated a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff and that the defendant’s violation of that duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Courts break this down into four elements:  duty, breach, causation, and damages.

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Lawsuits against a municipality can be tricky because municipalities are generally immune from Connecticut personal injury claims. The Connecticut Supreme Court recently considered a case against a municipality involving an officer who failed to respond to a report of a woman in danger who was found dead the following morning.

Police SirensAccording to the court’s recitation of the facts, there was a severe thunderstorm one evening in June, and at around 7:30 p.m., someone reported to a constable that a woman was standing in a field with her hands raised to the sky and that she needed medical attention. The field was about a half mile away from the ocean. The constable told the person that “he would take care of the situation.”

The constable called 911 and told the dispatcher. The dispatcher later testified that she did not put the call in or write it down because she forgot. The constable drove by the field later that night but did not see anyone and did not get out of the car to check. The next morning, the woman was found drowned along the shore in Long Island Sound about one mile from where she was seen in the field.

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Children spend a lot of their time at school, and parents leave children under the supervision of school staff. When children get hurt, many parents question when the school is liable. In a recent Connecticut premises liability case, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently considered one such case and explained the limits of those cases.

Safety ScissorsThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, an 11-year-old boy, was attending a magnet school in New Haven, Connecticut. After he arrived at school one day, he went to the auditorium to eat breakfast and wait for school to start. A teacher was in the auditorium at the time to supervise students. There were 70 to 75 students in the auditorium that morning. A girl was chasing after one of the plaintiff’s friends with safety scissors in her hand. She dropped the scissors near the plaintiff, and as the plaintiff and another girl bent down to pick up the scissors, the girl lifted the scissors and accidentally cut the plaintiff on the side of his face. The teacher did not see the girl running because he was talking to other students. The plaintiff was soon transported to a hospital for treatment.

In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the school failed to properly supervise the students in the auditorium. The case went to trial, and the court found in favor of the plaintiff on the failure to supervise claim and the failure to properly inspect the premises, and it awarded over $50,000 in damages.

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In Connecticut, a plaintiff has to establish four elements in order to prove negligence in a personal injury case:  duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. In general, a plaintiff has the burden to prove all four elements in a Connecticut personal injury claim.

Wrecked CarDuty refers to the legal obligation between individuals. Everyone generally must exercise reasonable care in order not to put others at an unreasonable risk of harm. All motorists owe a statutory duty of care to others to obey all motor vehicle laws and a common-law duty to operate a vehicle in a safe, careful, and responsible manner. Breach refers to when a defendant fails to live up to the standard of care in that particular situation. Causation refers to the “cause in fact” and the “proximate cause.” This means that the plaintiff’s breach has to directly cause the plaintiff’s damages, and courts will hold the defendant liable for such a breach. Damages refers to the damages the plaintiff suffers, including for example medical bills, property damage, and pain and suffering.

In addition, in cases in which the evidence shows the defendant acted with a reckless indifference to the rights of others or committed an intentional, wanton violation of those rights, the plaintiff can also recover punitive damages—additional damages that are not meant to compensate the plaintiff but instead to punish the defendant.

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In a recent case, the Connecticut Supreme Court decided a case could proceed toward trial against a city fire department after a fire in a public housing complex in 2009. The fire caused the deaths of a mother and her three children, and the family’s estate filed a lawsuit against the Bridgeport Fire Department and five city officials, alleging that they died because of the defendants’ failure to conduct an inspection of the unit.

House FireThe day before the fire, two housing authority employees conducted a routine maintenance inspection of the unit. During the inspection, the inspectors tested the smoke detectors, replaced one smoke detector, and changed one smoke detector’s batteries. At the end of the inspection, the inspector reported that all of the smoke detectors were working.

A fire broke out in the unit early the next morning, and all four individuals died of smoke inhalation. Investigators concluded that the fire was accidental and was caused from a fire on the stove with human involvement.

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In Connecticut product liability cases that go to trial, the plaintiff’s goal is to obtain a favorable verdict. However, in some cases, even a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor is not enough. In a recent case, the plaintiff brought a product liability claim against the defendant for the wrongful death of her husband. The plaintiff alleged that while her husband was working for the defendant, he was exposed to an asbestos-containing product, and the exposure contributed to his lung cancer. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant’s product was unreasonably dangerous and that the defendant knew or should have known of that danger but failed to determine the danger or remove the product from the market.

ContractAt trial, one of the plaintiff’s witnesses testified that as a worker at the defendant company, the husband would have been exposed to dust from the product. The plaintiff’s experts testified about how exposure to asbestos can cause a certain type of lung cancer. At the end of the trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. However, Connecticut’s Supreme Court reversed the decision.

The court found that the plaintiff failed to prove that the product was unreasonably dangerous and that it was a legal cause of the husband’s lung disease. It found that the plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient to prove that asbestos fibers were released from the product and that sufficient fibers were released to cause the husband’s lung disease. Therefore, the judgment was reversed.

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Car accidents are among the leading causes of injuries in this country, and they can have devastating consequences for those involved. There are many causes of Connecticut car accidents, but most accidents are results of aggressive driving or road rage, distracted driving, or intoxicated driving. In the tragic event of the death of a loved one, wrongful death claims can help to hold others accountable for their actions and to recover compensation for losses from car accidents.

Utility PoleWrongful Death Claims

In a wrongful death action, the right to bring the case and recover damages belongs to the decedent. The right to bring a wrongful death action exists because it is seen as a continuation of the decedent’s right to assert a claim as if they had lived. A wrongful death claim can be — and often is — brought by a personal representative of the estate of the decedent.

In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff has to prove that there was a violation of the standard of care, as well as a causal relationship between the injury and the decedent’s death. Therefore, as in other negligence claims, in wrongful death claims, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is legally at fault for the accident and that the accident was the proximate cause of the injury or death.

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In most Connecticut personal injury claims, the plaintiff is required to present direct evidence that the defendant acted negligently by doing or failing to do something. However, in some cases, negligence can be inferred based on the circumstances. In a recent case, a woman filed a negligence claim after she was injured on a sightseeing boat. While she was a passenger on the boat, a deckhand detached a line from a sail and lost control of it, which then swung toward the woman and hit her in the head. The woman brought a claim against the owners of the ship for negligence.

BoatThe trial court found in favor of the shipowners because it determined that the woman failed to show the shipowners were negligent because a seaman could lose control of a line without acting negligently. However, a federal court of appeals reversed, finding the woman made a sufficient showing of “res ipsa loquitur.” The deckhand had testified that he could not remember why he detached the line or why he lost control of it. The shipowners did not present any evidence to explain why the deckhand lost control of it.

The court explained that the trial court incorrectly applied the legal standard because although the deckhand could have lost control of the line without acting negligently, the woman only had to show that the event was not a type that ordinarily occurred in the absence of negligence. In addition, the shipowners did not present any evidence to show why he failed to keep the line secured with passengers on board. That is, there was no evidence that there were any abnormal circumstances that caused the deckhand to lose control of the line. The court explained that the mere possibility that “some external force” could have made him lose control of the line was not a sufficient reason to reject res ipsa loquitur in this case, since there was no evidence of an unusual external force.

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