ADELE P. EDGERTON, CONSERVATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF WALTER HOPKINS v. TOWN OF CLINTON et al., SC 19095
Judicial District of Waterbury
Governmental Immunity; Whether Identifiable Person, Imminent Harm Exception Applied Where 911 Dispatcher Failed to Instruct Victim of Hit and Run Accident to Stop Pursuing Offending Vehicle. In 2005, an automobile that was being driven by Matthew Vincent in the town of Clinton was struck by another vehicle, which left the scene without stopping. Vincent decided to pursue the offending vehicle, and, during the chase, he called 911 and informed the emergency dispatcher that he was the victim of a hit and run accident and was pursuing the offending vehicle. The offending vehicle ultimately collided with a tree, and, consequently, an occupant of the vehicle, Walter Hopkins, suffered serious injuries. The conservatrix of Hopkins’ estate subsequently brought this action against the town of Clinton pursuant to General Statutes § 52-557n, alleging that Hopkins’ injuries were caused by the negligence of the town’s emergency dispatcher in that she failed to instruct Vincent to break off his pursuit of the offending vehicle. Under § 52-557n, a municipality may be held liable for its negligent acts that cause injury to an individual, except where those acts require the exercise of discretion. At trial, the town argued that the negligence claim was barred by the doctrine of governmental immunity because the actions of the dispatcher were discretionary. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the conservatrix, determining that the identifiable person, imminent harm exception to discretionary act immunity applied to the negligence claim. That exception applies where the circumstances make it apparent to the public officer that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm. The town filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the exception was applicable or that the town proximately caused Hopkins’ injuries. The trial court denied the town’s motion, finding that the jury reasonably concluded that the identifiable person, imminent harm exception was applicable. The court reasoned that the limited duration of the pursuit, the specific geographic location of the chase and the small number of persons involved made it apparent to the dispatcher that her failure to instruct Vincent to call off his pursuit would likely subject an occupant of the offending vehicle to imminent harm. The court also stressed that the vehicles were speeding and that the chase took place at night on narrow, winding roads. The court further concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the dispatcher’s conduct caused Hopkins’ injuries, emphasizing that Vincent testified that he would have stopped pursuing the offending vehicle if the dispatcher had instructed him to do so. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the trial court’s conclusions were proper.