TRACEY HAYNES et al. v. CITY OF MIDDLETOWN, SC 19175

Judicial District of Middlesex

 

      Negligence; Municipalities; Whether Identifiable Person, Imminent Harm Exception to Governmental Immunity Applicable in this Case.  In March of 2005, a Middletown High School student, Jasmon Vereen, was injured in the school locker room when a fellow student pushed him into a broken locker after a physical education class.  Vereen and his mother subsequently brought this action pursuant to General Statutes § 52-557n, claiming that Vereen's injury was caused by the defendant city's negligence.  Under § 52-557n, a municipality may be held liable for its negligent acts that cause injury to an individual, except where those acts require the exercise of discretion.  At trial, the defendant moved for a directed verdict on the ground that its allegedly negligent actions were discretionary and that the doctrine of governmental immunity consequently barred the action.  The plaintiffs acknowledged that the defendant's acts were discretionary, but they contended that the identifiable person, imminent harm exception to discretionary act immunity applied to their action.  That exception applies where the circumstances make it apparent to a public officer that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm.  The trial court reserved judgment on the defendant's motion, and the jury subsequently returned a verdict in Vereen’s favor.  Thereafter, the court set aside the verdict on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the identifiable person, imminent harm exception was applicable in this case.  On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the court improperly set aside the verdict.  The Appellate Court (142 Conn. App. 720) disagreed, finding that the risk of harm that was created by the broken locker was not imminent in that the injury could have occurred at some unspecified time in the future or not at all.  The court explained that the plaintiffs presented evidence that the locker in question had been in a state of disrepair from the beginning of the school year until Vereen was injured in March of 2005.  Accordingly, the court concluded that the risk that was created by the broken locker was not temporary in nature.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the risk of harm was limited in time because Vereen and his fellow students had only been given five minutes to change their clothes in the locker room at the end of their physical education class.  The court reasoned that the risk of harm at issue was the broken locker, not the period of time that Vereen and the other students were in the locker room.  Based upon the foregoing, the Appellate Court concluded that the trial court properly set aside the verdict.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the evidence did not demonstrate that the identifiable person, imminent harm exception to governmental immunity applied here.