Welcome to our Supreme and Appellate Court summaries page. On this page, I provide abbreviated summaries of decisions from the Connecticut appellate courts which highlight important issues and developments in Connecticut law, and provide practical practice pointers to litigants. I have been summarizing these court decisions internally for our firm for more than 10 years, and providing relevant highlights to my municipal and insurance practice clients for almost as long. It was suggested that a wider audience might appreciate brief summaries of recent rulings that condense often long and confusing decisions down to their basic elements. These summaries are limited to the civil litigation decisions based on my own particular field of practice, so you will not find distillations of the many criminal and matrimonial law decisions on this page. I may from time to time add commentary, and may even criticize a decision’s reasoning. Such commentary is solely my opinion . . . and when mistakes of trial counsel are highlighted because they triggered a particular outcome, I will try to be mindful of the adage . . . “There but for the grace of God . . ..” I hope the reader finds these summaries helpful. – Edward P. McCreery
Posted June 6, 2014
The plaintiff, a “20 year old minor,” (admittedly experienced with drinking) filed a twenty-four-count complaint against the defendants for personal injuries allegedly sustained after he consumed alcohol and smoked marijuana before proceeding to a residence owned by two of the defendants where he was provided and consumed additional alcohol to the point of visible intoxication. He and others then went to an adjacent field regularly used by kids to party, owned by two other defendants who had assisted a fifth defendant in setting up a bonfire in the field prior to plaintiff's arrival. While at the field, the plaintiff consumed more alcohol that he had brought with him and subsequently passed out and was placed in a chair next to the bonfire. When he awoke, he stumbled and fell into the fire and was severely burned.
Homeowner defendants moved for S.J. denying alcohol was consumed in their home, but in any event, had no duty to control the conduct of a third person absent a special relationship, which was not present here. Plaintiff responded that ignorance of what took place in their home was not a defense.
The trial court denied S.J. noting that absent a special relationship of custody or control, there generally is no duty to protect a third person from the conduct of another…..but a limited exception applies to minors and alcohol where in appropriate circumstances, adults have a duty to refrain from negligently or intentionally supplying alcohol to minors, because minors are presumed not to have the capacity to fully understand the risks associated with intoxication. The trial court held a jury would have to decide whether the defendants knew the minor plaintiff was in their home and accessing alcohol.
Thereafter the jury found there was a duty owed and a breach of that duty by the defendants, but went on to find the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault for his own injuries, resulting in a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff appealed arguing the defendants should not have been allowed to assert a special defense of contributory negligence to a claim of service of alcohol to a minor. The plaintiff argued that the entire cause of action is premised upon the concept that a minor is legally incapable of knowing what they are doing and so allowing a comparative negligence defense is contrary to that legal premise.
The Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim noting that minors have always been subject to the rules of (formerly named and still called in the statutes) contributory negligence and (the more current phrase) comparative negligence …. only subject to their age being a factor for the juryies to consider. Minors can be held responsible for all sorts of legal obligations and criminal violations. The decision holding adults liable for serving minors with alcohol was never intended to make it a matter of strict liability. The verdict for the defendants was sustained.
The facts and holdings of any case may be redacted, paraphrased or condensed for ease of reading. No summary can be an exact rendering of any decision, however, so interested readers are referred to the full decisions. The docket number of each case is a hyperlink to the Connecticut Judicial Department online slip opinion.