Appellate Court Notes - Week of December 23

by Pullman & Comley, LLC

Welcome to our Supreme and Appellate Court summaries.  I have provided 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 December 23, 2013

  • AC34963 - Compassionate Care, Inc. v. Travelers Indemnity Co.

The plaintiff was in the business of maintaining a list of nurses it referred out, as needed, to hospitals and nursing homes.  It did background checks on them and had them sign a contract that they would not take jobs directly with their “clients," but the nurses were free to turn down any assignment, and could work elsewhere as they chose.  The plaintiff billed the clients for the time of the nurse and extracted their fee and then remitted the balance to the nurse without any withholdings.  The plaintiff did not supervise the nurses at their assigned jobs, but reserved the right to terminate them, with or without the client’s request. Plaintiff had a difficult time procuring workers' compensation (W.C.) insurance as most carriers feared the nurses would be deemed employees, not independent contractors.  Finally the plaintiff received a quote of $1,000 per year for coverage for its “small office staff” subject to a traditional “audit clause.”   After an audit, the W.C. carrier claimed the nurses would be deemed employees too and/or there was a risk they would, so it demanded another $100,000 premium.  Upon refusal to pay and cancellation of the policy, this lawsuit followed.  The trial court upheld both grounds for the insurer, but the Appellate Court reversed on one and retained the judgment in favor of the insurer.   This decision held that the trial court was clearly in error in concluding that either an “employee status” or CGS 31-292 mandated the plaintiff provide W.C. coverage for the nurses.  The case discusses in detail the factors that can lead one to be deemed an employee for W.C. purposes, and notes that retaining the right to fire is not the sole determining factor.  The right to direct and control the work done is key to deciding whether a master - servant relationship exists.  Here the plaintiff did not control the mode & manner of the work performed at the health care facilities once the nurse started working there.  Therefore the nurses were independent contractors.  Nonetheless, the insurer was still entitled to charge the higher premium because it was not the fact of whether they were employees or not, but rather that they might make such claims, which generated greater potential risk to the insurer who would’ve had a duty to defend such claims, which in turn entitled it to charge a higher premium for that added risk.

  • AC34904 - Hellamns v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, Inc.

There is no such thing as a super extra duty of care just because a hallway where the pregnant plaintiff fell happened to be in a maternity ward.  Liability for a slip and fall due to a spilled substance can only attach upon a showing that the owner had actual or constructive notice of the defective condition.  Here the trial court in essence applied a strict liability standard.  Judgment for the plaintiff was reversed.

When the parties appeared for trial over a right of way dispute, they asked the judge to leave the room while they tried to work out a settlement.  The defendant agreed to grant an access way to the plaintiff and generally pointed at a map for its location and the parties directed the surveyor present to plot it out.  They then wrote out a basis term sheet noting it would be followed by a more formal stipulated judgment, and they all signed it.  When one of the parties later balked at the formal agreement, the trial court held an “Audubon” hearing and ordered enforcement of the settlement, filling in the blanks as needed.  On appeal it was held that the trial court has continuing jurisdiction to order the imposition of a settlement and so long as it does not materially alter the agreement, can add logical extensions to the agreement to fill in the holes of a preliminary agreement.

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.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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