MADELINE MCDERMOTT, ADMINISTRATRIX (ESTATE OF WILLIAM MCDERMOTT), et al. v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT, SC 19221

Judicial District of Middlesex

 

†††† Negligence; Wrongful Death; Whether Defendant Assumed Greater Duty of Care Than That Reflected in Industry Safety Standards; Whether Decedentís Death was Proximately Caused by Defendantís Conduct.† Before removing a fifty-five foot tree in Cromwell, Department of Transportation employees marked the work zone by placing traffic cones on the adjacent sidewalk north and south of the tree.† The southerly cone was placed approximately eighty-five feet from the tree. †At the point at which the treeís height had been reduced to twenty-five feet, William McDermott, a pedestrian with no connection to the removal operation, walked past the southerly traffic cone and started watching the tree removal operation from approximately fifty-five feet away.† As he stood there, a segment of the trunk fell to the ground, hit a log that previously had been removed and propelled the log into the air, striking and killing McDermott.† McDermottís estate brought this wrongful death action against the state seeking to recover damages.† The state maintained that it had met its duty of care to the decedent by keeping him a distance of more than two tree lengths from the remaining tree trunk in accordance with the prevailing safety standard in the tree removal industry.† The court, however, concluded that the state voluntarily assumed a greater duty of care than that legally imposed by marking a work site in excess of industry safety standards.† It then concluded that the state violated that duty by allowing the decedent to stand within the work zone during the tree removal operation and that the violation proximately caused the decedentís death.† The court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff, and the state appealed.† The Appellate Court (145 Conn. App. 75) reversed and directed that judgment be rendered in favor of the state, concluding that the trial courtís determination that the state had voluntarily assumed a greater duty of care by creating a work zone that exceeded the industry standards lacked the necessary predicate findings; specifically, that the decedent relied upon the placement of the cones when he walked into the work zone and that his risk of being hit by tree debris was increased because the location of the southerly cone was farther away than required by industry standards.† It further opined that the trial court essentially imposed strict liability on the state for any harm that occurred within the work zone. †The Appellate Court also rejected the trial courtís proximate cause determination, ruling that the stateís conduct in permitting the decedent to remain within the area marked by the cones was not a substantial factor in bringing about his death. †It explained that the state was not required to take precautions against hazards too remote to be reasonably foreseeable.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide the following issues: (1) Did the Appellate Court properly reverse the judgment of the trial court on the basis that the trial court incorrectly found that the state had assumed a greater duty of care than that reflected in industry custom or standards?† (2) Did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the state was not the proximate cause of the death of the plaintiffís decedent?††