Will Your Municipality Be Liable For Its Failure To Conduct Mandatory Property Inspections?

by Murtha Cullina
Contact

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently issued a decision which opens the door for municipalities to be held liable for failing to conduct mandatory property inspections. In Williams v. Housing Authority of Bridgeport, 327 Conn. 338 (2017), the administratrix of the estates of four victims of an apartment fire sued the City of Bridgeport for failing to conduct a statutorily mandated inspection of the apartment. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-305(b), "[e]ach local fire marshal shall inspect or cause to be inspected, at least once each calendar year . . . , in the interests of public safety, all buildings and facilities of public service and all occupancies regulated by the Fire Safety Code within the local fire marshal’s jurisdiction . . . ." (emphasis added). In this case, the City admitted that it failed to perform its annual inspection of the apartment because of a "lack of resources."

The City argued that its governmental immunity under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n(b)(8) protected it from liability in this lawsuit as a matter of law. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n(b)(8), a municipality "shall not be liable for damages to person or property resulting from . . . failure to make an inspection or making an inadequate or negligent inspection of any property . . . unless the
[municipality] had notice of such a violation of law or such a hazard or unless such failure to inspect or such inadequate or negligent inspection constitutes a reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances." (emphasis added).

The trial court agreed with the City. It found that the City’s failure to perform its mandatory annual inspection of the apartment did not rise to the level of recklessness – and thus, the City could invoke its governmental immunity under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n(b)(8). As a result, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The Appellate Court reversed this decision, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

The main question before the Supreme Court was whether the City’s failure to perform its annual inspection of the apartment – which was required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-305(b) – could constitute a "reckless disregard for health or safety" under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n(b)(8)? If the answer were yes, the City could be precluded from invoking its governmental immunity and could be liable for damages stemming from the fire.

The Supreme Court’s decision falls short of embracing a per se rule of recklessness with respect to a municipality’s failure to perform mandated health or safety inspections. Instead, the Court acknowledged numerous factors that a jury may consider in assessing whether any particular failure to carry out a statutory mandated inspection demonstrates a "reckless disregard for health or safety under all relevant circumstances." These factors include:

  • whether the inspection is mandated by statute or regulation;
  • how frequently inspections are required to be conducted;
  • the nature and severity of the threat to health or safety that the inspection is intended to identify or thwart;
  • whether, and how frequently, threats of that sort have come to pass in the past, either at the location in question or at similar locations;
  • whether the premises involved featured any unique or atypical susceptibilities to risk;
  • the reasons why the inspection was not conducted;
  • whether the failure to inspect was an isolated event or part of a policy or pattern;
  • the number of properties or locations that went without inspection;
  • whether other municipalities or jurisdictions routinely neglect to carry out inspections of the type at issue;
  • the availability and adequacy of alternative means of identifying and thwarting the threats at issue; and
  • whether the municipal officials involved were aware or should have been aware of the answers to each of these questions.

The Supreme Court held that a jury could find that the City had demonstrated a reckless disregard for public health or safety under the circumstances in this case. It therefore concluded that the City was not entitled to summary judgment based upon the defense of governmental immunity, and it remanded the case back to the trial court so that a jury could make this determination.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Williams, municipalities should consider reviewing their inspection policies and consider consulting their town attorney about the reach of this new decision in abrogating governmental immunity. Ignoring the ramifications of this case may subject your municipality to significant liability.

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.

© Murtha Cullina | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Murtha Cullina
Contact
more
less

Murtha Cullina on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.