Tuesday, October 13, 2015
UPDATE A Superior Court jury decided today that a New York woman who sued her Westport cousin’s son for hugging her so hard at his eighth birthday party that she fell down and broke her wrist will get nothing.
After 25 minutes of deliberations the six-member jury came to the conclusion in Bridgeport Superior Court that the boy, now 12, was not liable for his actions.
The woman, Jennifer Connell, 54, said in a suit filed two years after the March 18, 2011 birthday party that the boy, Sean Tarala, who calls her “aunt,” acted unreasonably when he leaped into her arms, causing her to fall on the ground and break her wrist four years ago, the Connecticut Post reported.
The aunt sought $127,000 from the boy, who she described as always being “very loving, sensitive,” toward her. The boy is the only defendant in the case.
Connell barely flinched when the jury’s verdict was read and then fled the Bridgeport courthouse without saying a word, the New York Daily News reported. She had to go through a large media contingent outside the court.
She sat quietly in court with a black wrist guard on her left arm as the jury’s decision was announced.
The boy had appeared in court Friday with his father, Michael Tarala, a local electrician, of 45 Woods Grove Road. Neither was in court today.
His mother, Lisa, 47, a native of Hinckley, England, died suddenly on May 16, 2014, according to an obituary in a local newspaper there.
Connell, said to be a human resources manager in Manhattan, is a cousin of Michael Tarala. She said in court papers she suffered from pain and discomfort following the party and had medical bills totaling $113,221.
In a telephone interview tonight with CNN, Connell said, “This was meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case. Connecticut law is such that I was advised by counsel that this is the way a suit is meant to be worded.”
Connell said that an individual, not an insurance company, had to be named as a defendant.
“I adore this child. I would never want to hurt him. He would never want to hurt me,” she told CNN.
The boy refers to Connell as his aunt, although she said he is the son of her cousin. The family remains close. Just a few weeks ago, Connell said, she took the boy out shopping for his Halloween costume.
“It’s amazing the power that the Internet has that something can go viral, completely out of context,” she said. “I’m certainly not trying to retire to some villa in the south of France. I’m simply trying to pay off my medical bills.”
The Jainchill and Beckerlaw firm in Plainville representing Connell released this statement:
“From the start, this was a case was about one thing: getting medical bills paid by homeowner’s insurance.
“Our client was never looking for money from her nephew or his family. It was about the insurance industry and being forced to sue to get medical bills paid. She suffered a horrific injury.
“She had two surgeries and is potentially facing a third. Prior to the trial, the insurance company offered her one dollar. Unfortunately, due to Connecticut law, the homeowner’s insurance company could not be identified as the defendant.
“Our client was very reluctant to pursue this case, but in the end she had no choice but to sue the minor defendant directly to get her bills paid.
“She didn’t want to do this any more than anyone else would. But her hand was forced by the insurance company. We are disappointed in the outcome, but we understand the verdict. Our client is being attacked on social media. Our client has been through enough.”
According to court documents, the suit was filed on March 1, 2013. Proceedings were repeatedly postponed, including an extension granted in April of this year because Sean was out of state for the summer.
The case quickly brought worldwide attention as well as media representatives who staked out the courthouse as well as the family’s Woods Grove Road home. A youngster was seen peering out at photographers from a window, but it was not know whether it was Sean.
New York Magazine labeled Connell “Auntie Maim.”
The BBC, in reporting on the case, spoke to Nora Freeman Engstrom, a professor at Stanford Law School.
“It’s much harder to prove the negligence of a child, so these suits face an uphill road. While adults are negligent if they fail to display reasonable care under the circumstances, children are held to a relaxed standard,” she said.
“The general rule is: As long as a child is not engaged in an adult activity (and hugging certainly does not qualify), a child must only exercise the care that a reasonable child of the child’s actual age, intelligence, and experience would exercise.”
To read the complaint, click here.
Posted 10/13/15 at 03:37 PM
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