Angelo Ziotas ()
Sometimes a doctor’s negligence during a baby’s delivery results in a permanent injury to the child. But the injury isn’t always readily apparent to doctors and parents for quite some time, perhaps even until the child starts school. And so most states allow prospective plaintiffs a lengthy period to discover the harm and bring a claim.
In Connecticut, however, plaintiffs lawyers have, at most, until the child’s third birthday to bring a lawsuit, said Angelo Ziotas, of Silver Golub & Teitell in Stamford, who is the new president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association. “We have the absolute worst law in the country when it comes to the statute of limitations for claims brought by children,” Ziotas said. “Every other state in the union has some type of tolling that would allow children to bring claims more than three years after an event. Our law seems completely unfair.”
Ziotas, in the coming year as CTLA president, hopes to lobby state lawmakers in hopes that they will put Connecticut more in line with other states. “In most states you have the ability to bring that claim after a child reaches the age of majority, or at least up to 7 years old, which is not a bad compromise,” said Ziotas. “At least by then they’re at school and can be assessed in terms of the extent of their injuries.”
Ziotas, a litigator with 20-plus years’ experience, said he and other plaintiffs lawyers frequently get calls from prospective clients who have discovered that their child suffered an injury during birth. Frequently, said Ziotas, it’s too late to do anything.
Recently, Ziotas heard from a mother who learned that the nerves that control her child’s arm movements were stretched or torn during delivery. The parents “were told the baby would improve,” said Ziotas. “They were told that again and again and again. Unfortunately, they waited too long” to explore legal action.
Ziotas said he has asked the mother to help lobby lawmakers about statute-of-limitation reforms during the coming legislative session beginning in January.
Another issue Ziotas hopes the trial lawyers’ group can address is the onslaught of lawsuit settlements that include confidentiality agreements. He’s particularly concerned about their proliferation in cases involving defective products and malpractice.
“Well over 90 percent of civil cases settle,” noted Ziotas. “If there are important cases where people should know about dangerous products, doctors causing serious injuries, those kinds of things, the public should be aware without insurance companies requiring that the terms of a settlement be kept confidential.”
Ziotas cited the example of General Motors Co. and its handling of vehicle safety defects. Those ignition system problems have been linked to 13 deaths. Known problems with the vehicles date back to 2004. Many of the early lawsuits ended up in confidential settlements, Ziotas said. A company should not be able to hide public safety issues behind confidentiality agreements, he said.
“It shouldn’t be years and years’ worth of information before this comes out to the public,” said Ziotas. “More and more defendants are insisting on [confidential settlements]. The problem is the public doesn’t have any way of finding out what products are dangerous until there is a groundswell and the government takes action.”
As usual, Ziotas said, the CTLA will oppose bills in the next legislative session that grant immunity from lawsuits for certain types of actions. In recent years, immunity bills have sought to shield everything from good Samaritans who administer antioverdose drugs to municipalities and other government agencies that allow public recreational use of open space.
“We need to make sure people are acting reasonably and hold people accountable when they don’t,” said Ziotas. “These crazy immunity bills undercut the foundation of our system of justice.”
Another idea Ziotas would like to get off the ground is having an experienced trial attorney mentor a new CTLA member during the young lawyer’s first trial or two. The experienced lawyer wouldn’t accompany the younger lawyer into the courtroom. Rather, the veteran litigator would be available for phone conversations or similar communications in which trial strategy could be discussed and advice might be offered on how the younger lawyer might deal with a particular situation in the future.
“A lot of lawyers work in smaller firms, where there’s less help available to answer questions,” said Ziotas. “It provides someone to call and bounce things off of.”
In addition to Ziotas, other new CTLA officers are: Rosemarie Paine, president-elect; Michael D’Amico, vice president; D. Lincoln Woodard, secretary; James Horwitz, treasurer; Paul Slager, parliamentarian; and Doug Mahoney, immediate past president.•