BERNADINE BROOKS, ADMINISTRATRIX (ESTATE OF ELSIE WHITE) v. ROBERT POWERS et al., SC 19727

Judicial District of Middlesex

 

      Negligence; Governmental Immunity; Whether Appellate Court Properly Determined that a Jury Reasonably Could Conclude that Identifiable Victim, Imminent Harm Exception to Discretionary Act Immunity Applied Under Facts Here.  Elsie White’s estate brought this action alleging that Elsie White died as a result of the negligence of two Westport police officers.  On the stormy evening of the day before White was found dead, the officers were approached by a concerned citizen at a gas station who reported to one of the officers that there was a woman who appeared to need medical attention in a field just up the road.  The citizen reported that the woman was not properly dressed for the severe weather and that she was standing with her hands raised to the sky.  The officer said he would take care of the situation but joked about it when calling a dispatcher to relay the citizen’s report.  The officer asked the dispatcher to send another officer to the field, but the dispatcher failed to do so, and the police did not drive by the field until several hours after the report.  The body of the woman, identified as White, was found the next morning floating in Long Island Sound, less than a mile from where White was last seen.  The cause of her death was accidental drowning.  The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that, as a matter of law, the police officers, as municipal employees, enjoyed discretionary act immunity from the plaintiff’s claims and that the imminent harm, identifiable victim exception to discretionary act immunity did not apply.  The Appellate Court (165 Conn. App. 44) reversed, holding that summary judgment was improper because there was evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the imminent harm, identifiable victim exception applied to defeat the defendants’ immunity.  The Appellate Court noted that the exception applies where it is apparent to a public official that his conduct is likely to subject an identifiable victim to imminent harm.  The Appellate Court found that a reasonable jury could find from the evidence submitted that the citizen had sufficiently identified White as a potential victim of the storm and that it was apparent to the officers that White was at risk of imminent harm because they had all of the relevant facts of her situation before them.  The Appellate Court then found that a reasonable jury could conclude that the officers had subjected White to a risk of imminent harm in that it was more likely than not that she would become a victim of the storm because the officers isolated her from any chance of help by falsely stating that they would take care of the situation, by reporting the incident to the dispatcher in such a way that suggested it was a joke rather than a true emergency, and by failing to respond to the situation themselves.  The defendants appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court used the correct standard for determining whether the harm was imminent and properly applied the identifiable victim, imminent harm exception to the facts of this case.