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Tort Law Supreme Court Opinion

by Penn, Michele

 

SC19929 - Snell v. Norwalk Yellow Cab, Inc. ("The plaintiff, Brenda Snell, brought this negligence action against the defendants, Johnley Sainval, a taxicab driver, his employer, Norwalk Yellow Cab, Inc. (Yellow Cab), and Vito Bochicchio, Jr., the sole shareholder of Yellow Cab, seeking damages for serious injuries she sustained when she was struck by a taxicab that had been stolen from Sainval by two teenagers after Sainval left the vehicle unattended with the key in the ignition in a Norwalk neighborhood known to have a higher than average crime rate. A jury trial ensued at which the defendants claimed, inter alia, that the conduct of the two thieves was a superseding cause that relieved Sainval of any liability to the plaintiff for his alleged negligence. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury, in response to interrogatories submitted to it by the trial court, found that Sainval was negligent in leaving the taxicab unattended with the key in the ignition; that, in light of the surrounding neighborhood, it was reasonably foreseeable that the vehicle would be stolen and operated in an unsafe manner; and that Sainval's negligence was a proximate cause of some or all of the plaintiff's injuries. The jury also found, nevertheless, that the defendants were not liable for the plaintiff's injuries because the accident that occurred was not within the scope of the risk created by Sainval's negligence.

The plaintiff thereafter filed a motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial claiming, inter alia, that the jury's finding that Sainval's negligence constituted a proximate cause of the accident was legally inconsistent with its finding that the accident was outside the scope of the risk created by Sainval's negligence. The court denied the motion and rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict. The plaintiff then appealed to the Appellate Court, claiming that (1) it was improper for the trial court to instruct the jury on the doctrine of superseding cause, (2) even if the doctrine were properly submitted to the jury, the court's instructions and interrogatories misled the jury, and (3) the trial court improperly denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict was irreconcilable with its responses to the interrogatories. Snell v. Norwalk Yellow Cab, Inc., 172 Conn. App. 38, 41, 158 A.3d 787 (2017). The Appellate Court rejected the plaintiff's claims; id., 41–42; and we granted the plaintiff's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the following issues: (1) "Did the Appellate Court correctly determine that the judgment of the trial court should be affirmed on the basis that the doctrine of superseding cause applies in cases in which the conduct of a third party is criminally reckless?"Snell v. Norwalk Yellow Cab, Inc., 325 Conn. 927, 927–28, 169 A.3d 232 (2017). And (2) "Did the Appellate Court correctly determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial?" Id., 928.Although we answer the first question in the affirmative, we answer the second in the negative and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.")