HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) – A woman severely injured in a hit-and-run involving a stolen cab almost 10 years ago can take the taxi company back to court following a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that the company can he held liable for her life-altering injuries.
In its 32-page ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a Stamford civil jury's verdict and an appeals court's affirmation of the verdict and said mother-of-three Brenda Snell, now 54, could again see Norwalk Yellow Cab taxi company back in court.
The Appellate Court was wrong when it "incorrectly determined" the jury’s responses to interrogatories in the case "were legally consistent" and that it had been improper for the trial court to deny Snell’s motion for a new trial, Justice Richard Palmer wrote in the Aug. 13 ruling.
Snell sued Norwalk Yellow Cab, its owner Vito Bochicchio Jr. and a company employee Johnley Sainval for personal injuries she suffered when she was struck by a cab stolen by two teenagers in early December 2009.
"Under this court’s precedent, a finding that a third party’s conduct constitutes a superseding cause precludes the defendant’s negligence from being deemed a proximate cause of those injuries, and, because the jury found in its interrogatories both that (Sainval’s) negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries and that the teenagers' actions were a superseding cause of those injuries, this court could not conclude that the jury followed the trial court's instructions with respect to the issue of causation," Palmer wrote. "Accordingly, the plaintiff was entitled to a new trial."
The cab was stolen after Sainval left it idling and unattended at Monterey Village in Norwalk, "a housing complex located in an area of the city with significant criminal activity," background portions of the court's decision said.
"Sainval parked the taxicab and went inside one of the apartments, leaving the taxicab unlocked and unattended with the keys in the ignition," the decision said.
Deondre Bowden of Bridgeport and Shaquille Johnson of Norwalk, then 17 and 16 respectively, stole the cab and drove to Stamford, rear-ended a vehicle on West Main Street, drove the taxi onto a sidewalk, hit a fire hydrant and struck Snell. The teenagers were arrested and charged the following month, according to a local news report.
Snell suffered "severe physical injuries, particularly to her midsection, requiring millions of dollars in medical expenditures as of the time of trial, with additional treatments and surgeries expected," the Supreme Court's decision said.
The civil court jury later found Sainval had been negligent and that his negligence had been the proximate cause of Snell's injuries.
In reversing the appellate court's affirmation of the jury's verdict, the Supreme Court held that interrogatory responses upon which the jury based its verdict had not been consistent.
"For the reasons set forth hereinafter, we conclude, contrary to the contention of the plaintiff, that the superseding cause doctrine is applicable to the present case," Palmer wrote. "We also conclude, however, that the plaintiff is entitled to a new trial because the interrogatory responses on which the jury verdict was based are inconsistent as a matter of law."