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Modaffari v. Greenwich Hosp.

Appellate Court of Connecticut

June 16, 2015

ISABEL MODAFFARI
v.
GREENWICH HOSPITAL

Argued March 3, 2015

Page 509

Action to recover damages for, inter alia, the plaintiff's allegedly wrongful discharge from employment, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the jury before Hon. Edward F. Stodolink, judge trial referee; verdict and judgment for the defendant, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Hon. Edward F. Stodolink, judge trial referee, denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict and the plaintiff appealed to this court; subsequently, this court consolidated the appeals.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

The plaintiff phlebotomist sought to recover damages from the defendant hospital for her allegedly wrongful discharge from employment. The plaintiff drew blood samples from a patient at the defendant's facilities and, after collecting the blood samples in the vials, she noticed that they appeared unusual and that a number of the unused vials were contaminated by an unknown clear liquid. Subsequently, the plaintiff informed one of her supervisors, E. Upon learning of the incident, two federal agencies commenced investigations and interviewed numerous individuals employed by the defendant, including the plaintiff. Both agencies closed their investigations, and thereafter the plaintiff quit her job. The plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the defendant constructively discharged her by harassing and humiliating her, and by failing to compensate her fully for her employment, as a result of her cooperation with the federal investigations. At trial, the plaintiff testified that E had sent her into a room with the defendant's vice president, Q, who had ordered her not to speak with the federal agencies about the blood samples tampering incident. The plaintiff also testified that she previously had witnessed her former coworker, J, tampering with blood sample collection vials. A federal agent, M, testified that, during the course of his investigation, he interviewed J and administered a polygraph examination, which J passed. The trial court sustained the plaintiff's objection to the defendant's question inquiring about the results of the polygraph examination and struck J's answer from the record. Subsequently, the plaintiff moved for a mistrial, arguing that the defendant's question regarding the results of the polygraph examination and M's response were highly prejudicial and warranted a mistrial as they undermined her credibility and contradicted her prior testimony that she had witnessed J tampering with the blood collection vials. The plaintiff also claimed that a mistrial was warranted because no corrective action by the court could cure the prejudice she had sustained. The court denied the motion and the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The court rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict and thereafter denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict. On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred by denying her motion for a mistrial based on the improper question and testimony. Held that the plaintiff failed to meet her burden to prove that the trial court's denial of her motion for a mistrial constituted an abuse of discretion, as she did not demonstrate that she was so prejudiced by the improper question and testimony that she failed to receive a fair trial: the court immediately sustained her objection, struck M's testimony from the record, and provided the jury with a curative instruction, and the plaintiff did not rebut the presumption that the jury followed the court's curative instruction, which was sufficient to mitigate any prejudice the plaintiff sustained without the need for additional curative instructions; furthermore, any prejudice the plaintiff sustained as a result of the improper testimony was minimized because there was ample evidence before the jury that contradicted the plaintiff's testimony and undermined her credibility, specifically, E's testimony that he had not ordered the plaintiff to meet with Q, who testified that he did not order the plaintiff to refrain from speaking with the federal authorities, and M's testimony that, contrary to the plaintiff's account, the plaintiff failed to cooperate with him in scheduling a date for a polygraph examination.

John T. Bochanis, for the appellant (plaintiff).

David S. Poppick, for the appellee (defendant).

Alvord, Keller and Harper, Js. KELLER, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

OPINION

Page 510

[157 Conn.App. 779] KELLER, J.

The plaintiff, Isabel Modaffari, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant, Greenwich Hospital. She claims that the court erred by denying her oral motion for a mistrial that was based on a witness' improper statement regarding a polygraph examination, elicited by an improper question posed by the defendant. The court struck the statement from the record and instructed the jury to ignore it. We affirm the judgment of the court.

The following facts, which a jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are relevant here. The plaintiff was employed by the defendant, Greenwich Hospital, as a phlebotomist from December 13, 2004 to January 20, 2012. On or about May 29, 2011, during the course of her employment, she drew three blood samples from a patient at the defendant's facilities. Each blood sample was collected in a separate vial for storage. After collecting the blood samples in the vials, the plaintiff noticed that the blood samples appeared to be light pink in color. The plaintiff testified that the blood samples should have appeared dark red or cherry red in color. She then inspected the remainder of her unused vials and discovered that a number of [157 Conn.App. 780] them contained an unknown clear liquid, indicating that the vials were contaminated. Later that day, she informed one of her supervisors, Edmund Simon, of the incident. Two days later, the plaintiff gave the three contaminated vials to another one of her supervisors, Brian Runyon.

On June 3, 2011, as a result of the incident concerning the blood samples, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began conducting an investigation to determine whether there was a threat to public safety at the defendant's facilities and interviewed numerous individuals employed by the defendant, including the plaintiff. The FBI concluded that the incident did not warrant further inquiry and closed its investigation in December, 2011. At the FBI's request, another federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), began conducting a separate investigation in June, 2011, to determine whether there was evidence of product tampering at the ...


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