Mildred Freeman v. Alicja Morawiec and Daniel Samanez:A woman delivering the morning newspaper in New Britain who allegedly slipped and fell on ice in a customer’s driveway was unable to convince a jury that the owners of the property or a tenant should have been held liable for her injuries.
Mildred Freeman, then 53, of New Britain, was delivering newspapers on December 10, 2009 at around 6:30 a.m. when she came to a two-family home owned by Alicja Morawiec, who lived with her husband Windsor. An elderly couple had rented the second floor for a long time, while a younger tenant, Daniel Samanez, lived on the first floor.
Samanez was responsible for snow and ice removal during the winter, according to his lease terms, explained Morawiec’s lawyer, Philip R. Dunn Jr., of Jackson O’Keefe in Farmington.
According to the lawsuit filed by Freeman and her lawyer, Mark J. Migliaccio, of Butler, Norris & Gold in Hartford, a gutter downspout next to the driveway deposited water on the driveway. The water froze and Freeman claimed that she fell and sustained significant injuries.
However, the tenants never saw or heard Freeman that morning, said Dunn, nor did Freeman inform them at the time that she had injured herself. Dunn said Freeman claimed she landed on her left knee when falling, suffering a bad bruise. "The problem was she already had a really bad left knee," said Dunn, noting that the pre-existing condition was attributed to arthritis.
Freeman claimed the injury continued to bother her and significantly limited her activities. However, Dunn discovered that Freeman had been receiving Social Security disability payments since 2000.
"She was doing a paper route seven days a week while collecting Social Security disability," noted Dunn. "She gilded the lily pretty significantly and the government bought it for a period of years… She might still be getting it."
Dunn said the insurance carrier’s final offer to settle the claim was $1,500. Freeman was seeking $60,000, though Dunn believes she would have taken less to settle. As such, the case went to trial before New Britain Superior Court Judge Cynthia Swienton. Morawiec testified, as did Samanez, who did not hire a lawyer to represent him.
Dunn said the Morawiecs came across as conscientious landlords. Alicja Morawiec’s mother lived on the same street as the rental property and would drive by the residence daily to make sure things were in order. The family also made sure that Samanez had a full supply of sand for treating ice in the winter. "It was the only rental property they owned, so they projected as hard-working concerned people," said Dunn of the Morawiecs.
Samanez testified that he was unaware Freeman fell until he learned about the lawsuit a year after the alleged accident. Dunn said Samanez testified that he did not recall the conditions on that particular morning but he detailed his routine of clearing snow and ice on wintry mornings.
Following deliberations, the jurors decided that Morawiec and Samanez should not be held responsible for Freeman’s alleged injury.
"The key in this case indeed was notice," said Dunn, meaning that the home owner and the tenant would have had to have known about the ice hazard in order to be held liable. "This woman was there between 6:30 and 7 a.m., had been there the day before and admitted there was no ice and snow [that day]…There was no testimony or evidence to charge anyone with notice."
Dunn said the ice could have been there all night long or had formed just prior to her arrival. He thought the jurors could easily identify with the defendants, and may have been thinking: "What homeowner can expect to have all of their snow cleared at 6:30 a.m. because the paperboy might come by?"
Migliaccio, the plaintiff’s lawyer, declined comment for this article.•