JOSEPH FORTIN et al. v. HARTFORD UNDERWRITERS INSURANCE COMPANY et al., SC 19106

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Insurance; Whether Trial Court Properly Granted Summary Judgment in Favor of the Defendant Insurer After Precluding the Plaintiffs' Expert From Testifying as to the Reasonableness of Their Settlement.  The plaintiffs brought this action against North River Insurance Company, among others, seeking damages for breach of contract and a declaratory judgment determining North River's obligations to defend and indemnify them under an insurance policy.  The plaintiffs alleged that a lawsuit was brought against them that gave rise to coverage under the policy and that North River refused to defend or indemnify them in connection with the suit, which the plaintiffs ultimately resolved by way of a settlement payment.  The plaintiffs disclosed Attorney Dale Faulkner as an expert witness regarding the circumstances surrounding their settlement of the underlying lawsuit, including the objective reasonableness of their settlement payment.  The trial court granted North River's motion to preclude Faulkner from testifying as an expert witness, finding that the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate that Faulkner's opinion was based on sufficient facts and would assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining the objective reasonableness of the settlement payment.  The trial court then granted North River's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the plaintiffs bore the burden of demonstrating by expert evidence an essential element of their case, i.e., that their settlement payment was objectively reasonable, and that without Faulkner's testimony, the plaintiffs lacked such evidence.  The Appellate Court (139 Conn. App. 826) affirmed the judgment in favor of North River.  It stated that the record did not reveal that Faulkner had an adequate factual basis upon which to evaluate whether there was a significant prospect of an adverse judgment against the plaintiffs in the underlying action, whether the settlement was advisable, whether the claims against the plaintiffs were brought in good faith or whether the settlement amount was excessive.  It thus found that Faulkner's opinion was properly precluded.  Moreover, it rejected the plaintiffs' claim that expert testimony was not necessary to demonstrate that their settlement was objectively reasonable, determining that the issues involved in addressing the settlement were beyond the ken of an average juror.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court's ruling granting summary judgment in favor of North River.