DONNA YEAGER v. MARIA ALVAREZ et al., SC 18513

Judicial District of Waterbury

 

Offer of Judgment; Whether Court has Authority to Strike Offer of Judgment; Whether Offer was Properly Stricken as Sanction for Plaintiff's Discovery Violation; Whether Sanction was Disproportionate to Alleged Violation. The plaintiff brought this action to recover for injuries she sustained in an auto accident. She filed an offer of judgment pursuant to General Statutes 52-192a, offering to settle the case for $300,000. Section 52-192a gives a defendant thirty days to accept an offer of judgment and provides that, if the offer is rejected and the plaintiff ultimately recovers at trial an amount equal to or greater than the offer, "the court shall add to the amount [recovered at trial] eight per cent annual interest on said amount. . . ." The defendants did not accept the offer of judgment and, nine months after the time to accept it had passed, they filed a motion asking that the time to accept the offer be extended or, alternately, that the offer of judgment be stricken. In support of their motion, the defendants argued that the plaintiff had violated Practice Book 13-15, which imposes a continuing duty to supplement discovery responses by promptly notifying the other side of any additional or new material. The defendants claimed that, while the plaintiff had undergone spinal surgery after this action was filed and three months before she filed the offer of judgment, she failed to disclose the surgery to the defendants until after the time for accepting the offer of judgment had passed. The plaintiff responded that the information disclosed to the defendants prior to the offer of judgment included several references to the spinal surgery. Finding that the defendants had received no "direct information" that the surgery had been performed, the trial court struck the offer of judgment. A jury subsequently awarded the plaintiff $1.4 million in damages, and the court denied the plaintiff's motion that 52-192a offer of judgment interest be added to that amount. The plaintiff appeals, claiming that 52-192a gives a court no discretion to strike an offer of judgment as the statute clearly provides that, if an offer is filed and the plaintiff recovers an amount equal to or greater than the amount of the offer, the court must award interest. She also claims that, as the legislature conferred a substantive right by enacting 52-192a, the trial court could not interpret the rules of practice in a way that abridged that right. Finally, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in striking the offer of judgment - and denying offer of judgment interest - as a sanction for violating Practice Book 13-15 where she claims that (1) there was no discovery violation because she disclosed all the information that she had, and (2) the sanction was not proportional to the alleged discovery violation.