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Tate v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Illinois

Appellate Court of Connecticut

May 26, 2015

LORENE TATE
v.
SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF ILLINOIS ET AL

Argued February 10, 2015.

Action to recover damages for, inter alia, breach of contract, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the court, Sommer, J., denied the defendant's motion in limine to preclude certain evidence; thereafter, the matter was tried to a jury before the court, Sommer, J.; verdict for the plaintiff; subsequently, the court denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict and rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

The plaintiff sought to recover damages from her defendant insurer, S Co., and the defendant M in connection with personal injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiff in an automobile accident involving M. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding damages for her full expenses at the emergency room following the accident, and for certain medical tests and services provided by her physicians. The jury did not award the plaintiff any damages for expenses she had incurred in connection with a knee surgery she had undergone. The parties disputed whether the accident had caused the injuries requiring the surgery or whether the plaintiff's knee problems existed prior to the accident. After the trial court denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, and then rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, the plaintiff appealed to this court. She claimed that the trial court improperly limited her expert witness physician, S, from referring to records in evidence compiled by another medical provider, E, while allowing the expert witnesses of the defendants to reference them in their testimony.

Held:

1. The plaintiff failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that any alleged error by the trial court in precluding S from using E's reports was harmful: the trial court's evidentiary ruling did not prevent the jury from considering the relevant and material evidence contained in E's records because the records were full exhibits and available to the jury, which had the opportunity to fully examine, consider and refer to E's findings and assessments during its deliberations; furthermore, given that E's records did not contain any discussion of how the accident had caused the plaintiff's knee injury or why E believed that the knee injury was caused by the accident, they could not have offered support to S's conclusion that the accident had been the cause of the plaintiff's knee injury.

2. The plaintiff could not prevail on her claim that the trial court's cumulative erroneous rulings, obstruction and interference with her presentation of her case, and perceived bias at trial unduly prejudiced her, rose to the level of harmful error and prevented her from securing a fair trial: the plaintiff having failed to cite any legal principle or authority in support of her claim that the trial court made so many erroneous rulings against her that their cumulative nature amounted to harmful error, this court declined to review her inadequately briefed claim; moreover, the plaintiff having failed to properly preserve her claim of judicial bias by moving to disqualify the judge at any time during the trial court proceedings, and having failed to failed to request plain error review of her unpreserved claim of judicial bias, that claim also was not reviewable.

James O. Gaston, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Christopher M. Russo, for the appellee (named defendant).

Michael T. Vitali, for the appellee (defendant Marjorie Meketa).

DiPentima, C. J., and Alvord and Pellegrino, Js. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

OPINION

Page 387

[157 Conn.App. 434] DiPENTIMA, C. J.

The plaintiff, Lorene Tate, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a jury trial, following the denial of her motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in limiting her expert witness physician from referring to records in evidence compiled by other medical providers while allowing the expert witnesses called by the defendants, Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois (Safeco)[1] and Marjorie Meketa, to reference them in their testimony. Additionally, the plaintiff argues that the court's " cumulative erroneous rulings, obstruction and interference with the plaintiff's presentation of her case, and perceived bias at trial unduly prejudiced the plaintiff, rose to the level of harmful error, and prevented her from securing a fair trial." We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are relevant to the appeal. On June 19, 2009, the plaintiff's automobile was involved in a low-speed collision with the Meketa vehicle on Islandbrook Avenue in Bridgeport. Following the impact, the Meketa vehicle attempted to leave the scene, and the plaintiff pursued it until she was able to obtain the license plate number of the Meketa vehicle. Once she had secured the license plate number, the

Page 388

plaintiff terminated her pursuit, drove home, and called the police.

The responding police officer, Brian Spillane, determined that the license plate number provided to him by the plaintiff belonged to a vehicle owned by Meketa. [157 Conn.App. 435] Spillane examined the plaintiff's automobile and observed that it had sustained damage to its left side. When the Meketa vehicle subsequently was examined by Officer Samuel McKelvie on June 22, 2009, however, he could not observe anything " out of the ordinary," besides " regular . . . scratches and scrapes . . . ."

The plaintiff informed Spillane that she had sustained an injury as a result of the accident. Specifically, according to Spillane, the plaintiff complained of back pain, but her injury was " non-evident." [2] When Spillane asked the plaintiff whether she wanted him to call an ambulance, the plaintiff refused and told Spillane that she would drive to the emergency room herself because it was " just down the street." At the Bridgeport Hospital emergency room, the plaintiff complained of having mild pain in her lower back and on the right side of her neck, radiating down the right arm. The hospital record further reflects that the plaintiff was observed limping at the time of the visit but does not reflect any complaint about her knee.

As the day progressed, however, the plaintiff's condition did not improve, and she decided to seek additional help. Acting on her friend's advice, the plaintiff set up an appointment with Anthony Tortorella, a chiropractor, who agreed to see her the next day, June 20, 2009. During the appointment, Tortorella performed a series of tests and diagnosed the plaintiff with having " [c]ervical radiculitis with associated cervical sprain strain, acute moderate wrist pain, [right] knee pain, and dysesthesia." [3] On the basis of the diagnosis, Tortorella prescribed a course of treatment for the plaintiff starting [157 Conn.App. 436] June 24, 2009.[4] On July 24, 2009, Tortorella referred the ...


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