PATRICIA SANTORSO, ADMINISTRATRIX (ESTATE OF LAWRENCE SANTORSO) et al. v. BRISTOL HOSPITAL et al., SC 18798
Judicial District of New Britain
Medical Malpractice; Res Judicata; Whether Plaintiff’s Medical Malpractice Claims were Barred by the Doctrine of Res Judicata on the Ground that, in a Prior Action, the same Claims were Stricken Pursuant to General Statutes § 52-190a. In 2006, Lawrence Santorso brought a medical malpractice action against the defendants, Bristol Hospital and two physicians. He attached opinion letters to his second amended complaint pursuant to General Statutes § 52-190a (a), which provides in part that a medical malpractice action may not be filed unless the plaintiff has made "a reasonable inquiry . . . to determine that there are grounds for a good faith belief that there has been negligence in the care or treatment of the claimant" and has obtained "a written and signed opinion of a similar health care provider . . . that there appears to be evidence of medical negligence. . . ." The defendants filed motions to strike the second amended complaint on the ground that the opinion letters were insufficient in that they were not obtained prior to the filing of the action as required by § 52-190a (a). The trial court agreed and granted the motions. After Santorso passed away, the administratrix of his estate (the plaintiff) initiated the present medical malpractice action against the same defendants pursuant to the accidental failure of suit statute, General Statutes § 52-592 (a). The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the action was barred by the doctrine of res judicata, which prevents a litigant from reasserting a claim that already has been decided on the merits. The trial court denied the motions, and, on appeal, the Appellate Court (127 Conn. App. 606) reversed the trial court's decision. In doing so, the court first determined that the same parties, or their privies, were involved in both actions and that the same causes of action were asserted in the two actions. It emphasized that, under Connecticut case law, a judgment rendered pursuant to a motion to strike constitutes a judgment on the merits. It then concluded that the plaintiff's claims were decided on the merits in the first action because the parties had the opportunity to litigate fully the question of whether the defendants' motions to strike should be granted, and, in granting the motions, the trial court determined that the operative complaint was legally insufficient. It also underscored the fact that, after the trial court granted the motions to strike, the plaintiff chose to file a second action instead of repleading the stricken complaint or appealing from the court's decision. For the foregoing reasons, the Appellate Court held that the trial court should have granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's decision was correct.