Articles Posted in Government Liability

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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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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The first issue in any personal injury claim is determining the proper defendant in a case. In a recent Connecticut premises liability case, the court had to consider whether a landowner defendant was liable for injuries that a woman allegedly sustained on a public sidewalk next to the owner’s property.

Cobblestone WalkwayIn that case, the plaintiff filed a claim against a property owner after she fell on a public sidewalk next to the owner’s property in Meriden, Connecticut. She tripped and fell on the sidewalk and alleged that since the concrete was broken and cracked, and since the crack was hidden by grass growing through the crack, it prevented her from safely using the sidewalk. She claimed that she sustained injuries, mostly to her right leg. The plaintiff alleged that the landowner allowed a defective, dangerous, and unsafe condition to exist, knew or reasonably should have known of the presence of the defect, and failed to repair it in a timely manner or warn others of the defect.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not have a duty to maintain the sidewalk. A Connecticut appeals court agreed. It held that the landowner did not have a duty to maintain the sidewalk in this case because the municipality had the primary duty to maintain the sidewalk, and it had not shifted liability to the landowner through a statute, ordinance, or charter provision, and it did not create a defect by its own actions. Therefore, the court granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the case.

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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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