Brenda Rose v. Town of East Hartford: An East Hartford woman who slipped on ice and suffered a permanent shoulder injury has settled her lawsuit against the town for $75,000.
On New Year’s Eve in 2009, at around 1 p.m., Brenda Rose, 59, began to walk across King Court in East Hartford, which is both the name of the road and a housing development run by East Hartford’s housing authority.
According to Rose’s lawyer, Adam Teller, of Leone, Throwe, Teller & Nagle, in East Hartford, there was a depression in the pavement near where the curb met the street. Earlier that day, Teller explained, a coating of snow fell and the depression was covered by snow and ice.
“[Rose] stepped off the curb and exactly where she stepped off the curb, that’s where the ice pooled,” said Teller. “She couldn’t see it because it was dusted with snow.”
In falling, Rose tore her the rotator cuff in her left shoulder. She also later developed carpal tunnel syndrome in her left wrist.
Later that day, Rose went to a walk-in clinic for treatment and was referred to an orthopedic doctor, who diagnosed the rotator cuff tear. Her doctor ultimately rated her as having a 12 percent permanent partial disability in her left shoulder and 5 percent in her left wrist.
Rose amassed $32,000 worth of medical bills, including the charges for her shoulder surgery. “She was not able to work,” said Teller. “She received some long-term disability benefits but was denied Social Security disability.”
Rose was a clerical worker whose job was eliminated by her company before she was able to return to work. Her doctor eventually cleared her to return to light duty, but by that time it was too late because her job no longer existed. Teller said Rose has been unable to find another job since.
Rose later hired Teller and brought a suit against the Town of East Hartford on a highway defect claim. Given that towns are generally immune from negligence claims, Rose’s exclusive means of suing a town for road in disrepair was through the defective highway claim.
Teller explained that in order to win such a claim, plaintiffs must prove several elements. First, they must prove that a defect exists. Second, they must show the defect to be the “sole proximate cause” of an accident, and not just a contributing factor. And third, they must prove that a municipality had adequate notice of the condition and a chance to remdy it.
The town was represented by Corporation Counsel Scott Chadwick, who did not return calls for this article. Chadwick generally argued that the town did not have time to clear the ice on the road that day because the snow had stopped falling only about an hour before Rose was injured.
However, Teller’s position was that the poor conditions on King Court were long known to the town. The attorney said he found an expert who would have testified at trial that the lack of drainage near the curb and the regular collection of ice at that spot indicated a long-standing problem.
Teller said there were indications that town officials had taken note of a defect close to the location of Rose’s fall. A construction barrel had been placed nearby, and had been sitting there for more than a year, marking a spot in need of repair. “The plaintiff fell maybe 25 feet away from that construction barrel, which sort of indicated the town had some notice of the depression and formation of the ice,” said Teller.
Teller said the defense filed a motion to dismiss the case, which was denied, and then appealed that decision to the state Appellate Court. After a hearing before the Appellate Court, the two sides mediated the case with Judge Michael Riley, of the Windham Judicial District.
Riley helped the two sides establish a monetary value on Rose’s injuries. The two sides ultimately agreed to settle for $75,000. “Because of the sole proximate cause and notice issues, a case like this is an all-or-nothing case,” said Teller. “Both sides saw reasons to compromise and that led to a settlement.”•