Articles Posted in Connecticut Case Law

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 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 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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Earlier this month, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in a Connecticut premises liability lawsuit requiring the court to discuss the fireman’s rule and determine its applicability to the specific facts of the case. Ultimately, the court concluded that the fireman’s rule – which traditionally applied only to premises liability actions – should not be extended to general negligence claims. Thus, the high court reversed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

FirefighterThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an on-duty police officer who was responding to a call for a person, the defendant, who had entered a home in violation of a protection order and was refusing to leave. Upon arrival, the plaintiff was made aware that the defendant was threatening to harm himself.

Believing it was necessary to prevent the defendant from harming himself or someone else, the plaintiff decided to kick in the defendant’s door. As the plaintiff attempted to do so, he was seriously injured. The plaintiff filed a general negligence claim against the defendant. Importantly, the plaintiff’s claim was not based on a theory of premises liability and did not allege any defect or hazard in the home.

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Some Connecticut personal injury plaintiffs may receive an unfavorable decision from the trial court. However, a plaintiff can generally appeal that decision. Yet, as one recent personal injury case demonstrates, following the procedural rules on appeal is extremely important.

HorseIn that case, the plaintiff sustained injuries while she was taking a horseback riding lesson at the defendant’s horse stable. She claimed that her injuries were caused by the defendant’s negligence by failing to warn her of dangerous conditions at the stable and of the inherent risks of horseback riding.

The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in the defendant’s favor. The plaintiff appealed. She argued that the court should not have admitted a written agreement between the parties and a photograph of a sign at the stable, which stated that the defendant was released from liability for injuries arising out of horse-related activities. The agreement stated in part that the rider would assume the “unavoidable risks inherent in all horse-related activities, including but not limited to bodily injury and physical harm to horse, rider, and spectator.” The court allowed the document and the photo to be admitted in court. The trial court told the jury that the document was only being admitted as a notice of the risks of horse riding, rather than as a release of the defendant’s liability.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Connecticut sports injury case that required the court to determine if the school that was named as a defendant in the case was entitled to government immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the alleged act of negligence pleaded by the plaintiff involved a discretionary duty, so government immunity did apply. As a result, the plaintiff will not be permitted to seek compensation for the injuries sustained by her son.

Soccer PlayerThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s son broke his leg while playing soccer in gym class. At the time of her son’s injury, the class was being taught by a substitute teacher, and none of the students were required to wear shin guards.

The plaintiff filed a Connecticut personal injury lawsuit against several defendants, including the town where the school was located, the school board, the principal of the school, and the substitute teacher. The plaintiff claimed that the school’s failure to provide shin guards was negligent and that this negligence caused her son’s injuries. In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented the school’s curriculum guide, which stated that students should “wear shin guards for additional protection.”

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Last month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Connecticut slip-and-fall case requiring the court to determine if the lower court was proper in ruling that the plaintiff proved her case against the defendant hospital. Ultimately, the court affirmed the lower court’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff, finding that the defendant’s challenges to the lower court’s rulings were without merit.

SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was visiting a loved one at a hospital owned and operated by the defendant. The plaintiff was on her way out of the hospital, walking on a sidewalk on hospital property, when she stubbed her toe. This caused her to fall to the ground, resulting in serious lower back injuries. Additionally, she broke her toe when she stubbed it against the object. The plaintiff did not see what caused her fall.

The plaintiff filed a Connecticut personal injury lawsuit against the hospital, arguing that the hospital should have not allowed the divot in the pavement to remain or should have warned about its presence. The plaintiff claimed that the hospital’s failure to fix the defect or warn her about it resulted in her tripping and injuring herself.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Connecticut issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that was brought by a man who slipped and fell after exiting a public pool after an aqua-therapy class. The court was tasked with determining whether the municipality that owned and operated the pool was entitled to immunity, despite the fact that it had charged a fee to the organization that put on the aqua-therapy class. Ultimately, the court concluded that, while the municipality did charge a fee for the usage of the pool, the fee was nominal and did not result in the municipality making a profit. Thus, government immunity remained intact, and the plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed.

Swimming PoolThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was participating in an aqua therapy class taught by a local organization that provided rehabilitation services. The organization had requested the use of the pool by sending a one-page request to the municipality and agreeing to pay a $50 fee. The organization was not the only group to use the pool, and when the pool was not being rented out to a group, it was designated for public use.

After the class, the plaintiff exited the pool and walked back to the men’s locker room. On his way, he slipped and fell on a wet step, injuring himself in the process. The plaintiff filed a premises liability case against the municipality, claiming that its negligence in maintaining the area around the pool resulted in his injuries.

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Earlier last month, the Connecticut Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a Connecticut car accident case requiring the court to discuss the distinction between a judge’s decision whether to admit certain evidence and the weight that evidence is afforded by the fact-finder once admitted. Ultimately, the appellate court determined that the trial court properly admitted the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony yet was within its right to assign the evidence little weight and find in favor of the defendant.

Curved RoadThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Transportation after she was involved in a car accident with a Department-owned vehicle. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that she was driving southbound on the highway when she passed the Department vehicle. As she passed the vehicle, she heard a loud bang, and the next thing she knew, her car was sliding upside-down on the highway. The plaintiff claimed that the Department was liable for the negligence of the Department employee who was operating the vehicle at the time of the accident.

The Department denied liability and maintained that the plaintiff was the one who caused the accident. The Department called the employee to testify. He explained to the court that his vehicle was pulled completely off the road and that he had engaged the vehicle’s hazard lights when the Department vehicle was struck from behind by the plaintiff’s car.

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