Conn. SC affirms rulings in fire truck collision cases

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 17, 2011


HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) - The Connecticut Supreme Court, in an opinion filed March 9, has upheld a trial court's judgments in the case of a collision between two city fire trucks.

On May 19, 2007, two fire trucks from the City of Waterbury, Truck 1 and Engine 12, collided. Both were operated by firefighters employed by the city, and both were responding to a report of a kitchen fire on Eastern Avenue.

Joseph Fischetti operated Engine 12 while John Keane rode in the front passenger seat. William Mahoney operated Truck 1.

As the two trucks approached the intersection of East Aurora Street and the Route 73 connector to Route 8 in Waterbury, Truck 1 collided with Engine 12.

As a result of the collision, Keane suffered serious injuries that resulted in his death and Mahoney suffered nonfatal injuries.

Keane's dependents and Mahoney are eligible to receive and have received benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act. Monica Keane and Mahoney, however, brought separate actions, seeking additional damages.

In the first case, plaintiff Monica Keane appealed from the judgment of the trial court, which granted the motions of defendants Fischetti and Mahoney to strike all counts of the complaint.

In the second case, plaintiffs Mahoney and his wife, Erin, appealed from the judgment of the trial court following the trial court's decision to grant the motions of defendants Monica Keane and Fischetti to strike all counts of the complaint.

At issue is whether General Statutes § 7-308, which bars actions between firefighters for negligence while acting within the scope of their employment, violates the equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

On appeal, the plaintiffs in both cases claim that the trial court improperly granted the defendants' motions to strike on the ground that the actions were barred by the immunity provision in § 7-308.

The Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court.

Justice Peter T. Zarella, who authored the Court's opinion, sided with the defendants in the cases. They argue that the state Legislature decided that motor vehicle negligence actions between firefighters present a greater risk of municipal liability than similar actions between other municipal employees.

The defendants claimed that negligence actions between firefighters are likely to be more frequent and more costly to municipalities because firefighters, unlike other municipal employees, typically respond to calls for service by operating unwieldy trucks in an emergency mode.

This requires them to drive in excess of speed limits and in disregard of traffic control devices, resulting in a greater risk of accidents that might give rise to litigation than that involving other municipal employees.

"We conclude that the legislature reasonably could have relied on these facts in drawing the classification in § 7-308 and further conclude that this classification is reasonably related to the legitimate governmental interest of reducing municipal liability and fostering the provision of effective firefighting services," the Court wrote.

"Although there may be other, perhaps even better, options available to the legislature to accomplish its legitimate objectives, rational basis review affords great deference to legislative choices and does not authorize this court to substitute its judgment, or that of the plaintiffs, for that of this state's elected representatives, as long as the classifications drawn by the legislature are reasonable."

Therefore, the Court concluded that the classification between firefighters and other municipal employees created by § 7-308 does not violate the federal or state equal protection clause.

In light of its decision, the Court concluded that the trial court "properly granted" the motions to strike the complaints in each case and "properly rendered" judgments in favor of the defendants.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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