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Defusco v. Cribbens

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Haven, New Haven

September 23, 2015

Michael Defusco, Jr.
v.
John Cribbens et al

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (#132)

Robin L. Wilson, J.

FACTS

This action arises from a rear-end collision between two motor vehicles. On November 6, 2013, the plaintiff, Michael Defusco, Jr., submitted a revised three-count complaint alleging the following facts against the defendants, John Cribbens (Cribbens) and First Student, Inc. (First Student). On May 29, 2012, the plaintiff was operating a motorcycle northbound on a public highway. Cribbens, operating a school bus owned by First Student, also proceeding northbound, entered the highway ahead of the plaintiff, thus causing the plaintiff to collide with the rear-end of the school bus.

In Count One of the revised complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the accident was caused by Cribbens' negligence and carelessness. In particular, the plaintiff alleges that Cribbens failed to keep a proper lookout, was traveling at a greater rate of speed than warranted by the circumstances, failed to give the plaintiff any warning of the impending collision, failed to take measures to avoid the collision by braking or turning out of the lane, failed to operate the bus under proper control, and violated General Statutes § 14-243(a). In Count Two, for statutory recklessness, the plaintiff alleges additional facts indicating that Cribbens recklessly made an improper lane change ahead of the plaintiff and, despite knowing that such action would result in significant foreseeable injuries, consciously attempted to race ahead of the plaintiff's motorcycle, thus cutting off the plaintiff and causing him substantial injuries. In so doing, Cribbens violated General Statutes § 14-218a and § 14-222(a). In Count Three, for negligence against First Student, the plaintiff alleges that Cribbens was an agent and/or employee of First Student operating the school bus with its permission, consent, and authority, such that First Student is vicariously liable for Cribbens' negligence.

On April 9, 2015, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, along with a supporting memorandum of law and exhibits. The plaintiff filed an objection on June 22, 2015, to which the defendants replied on June 25, 2015. The matter was heard at short calendar on June 29, 2015.

DISCUSSION

" Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law . . . In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Vendrella v. Astriab Family Ltd. Partnership, 311 Conn. 301, 313, 87 A.3d 546 (2014). " In seeking summary judgment, it is the movant who has the burden of showing the nonexistence of any issue of fact. The courts are in entire agreement that the moving party for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue as to all the material facts, which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law. The courts hold the movant to a strict standard. To satisfy his burden the movant must make a showing that it is quite clear what the truth is, and that excludes any real doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Romprey v. Safeco Ins. Co. of America, 310 Conn. 304, 319-20, 77 A.3d 726 (2013).

" [T]he genuine issue aspect of summary judgment requires the parties to bring forward before trial evidentiary facts, or substantial evidence outside the pleadings, from which the material facts alleged in the pleadings can warrantably be inferred . . . A material fact has been defined adequately and simply as a fact which will make a difference in the result of the case." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Buell Industries, Inc. v. Greater New York Mutual Ins. Co., 259 Conn. 527, 556, 791 A.2d 489 (2002). " A genuine issue has been variously described as a triable, substantial or real issue of fact . . . and has been defined as one which can be maintained by substantial evidence." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) United Oil Co. v. Urban Redevelopment Commission, 158 Conn. 364, 378, 260 A.2d 596 (1969). " 'Issue of fact' encompasses not only evidentiary facts in issue but also questions as to how the trier would characterize such evidentiary facts and what inferences and conclusions it would draw from them." Id., 379.

In their memorandum of law, the defendants argue that there is no evidence whatsoever indicating that Cribbens switched lanes on the highway. Thus, there is no genuine issue of material fact that Cribbens did not swerve into the left lane of the highway, thereby forcing the plaintiff to take evasive action and collide with another bus. Therefore, the plaintiff's claims for negligence, recklessness, and vicarious liability, all of which are premised on a theory that Cribbens caused the collision by cutting off the plaintiff, must fail as a matter of law. The defendants submitted the following exhibits in support of their motion: deposition testimony by the plaintiff (Exhibit A), and the Uniform Police Accident Report that was produced at the scene of the accident. (Exhibit B.)

In opposition, the plaintiff argues that evidence of his alleged contributory negligence is insufficient to meet the defendants' burden of disproving Cribbens' negligence. The plaintiff further argues that there is an issue of material fact as to whether the traffic signal was green or red at the time of the collision, and that any evidence indicating that Cribbens improperly slowed down for a green light supports a finding of negligence. The plaintiff objects to the defendants' submission of the Uniform Police Accident Report on the ground that it contains statements that are inadmissible at trial. In support of his argument, the plaintiff submitted deposition testimony by Cribbens. (Exhibit 1.)

I

" [C]ommon experience shows that causes of motor vehicle accidents other than driver negligence are not infrequent." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Toomey v. Danaher, 161 Conn. 204, 207, 286 A.2d 293 (1971). " A plaintiff cannot merely prove that a collision occurred and then call upon the defendant operator to come forward with evidence that the collision was not a proximate consequence of negligence on his part. Nor is it sufficient for a plaintiff to prove that a defendant operator might have been negligent in a manner which would, or might have been, a proximate cause of the collision. A plaintiff must remove the issues of negligence and proximate cause from the field of conjecture and speculation." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) O'Brien v. Cordova, 171 Conn. 303, 306, 370 A.2d 933 (1976).

" The essential elements of a cause of action in negligence are well established: duty; breach of that duty; causation; and actual injury . . . Contained within the first element, duty, there are two distinct considerations . . . First, it is necessary to determine the existence of a duty, and then, if one is found, it is necessary to evaluate the scope of that duty . . . The existence of a duty is a question of law and only if such a duty is found to exist does the trier of fact then determine whether the defendant violated that duty in the particular situation at hand . . . If a court determines, as a matter of law, that a defendant owes no duty to a plaintiff, the plaintiff cannot recover in negligence from the defendant." Sic v. Nunan, 307 Conn. 399, 406-07, 54 A.3d 553 (2012).

" To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant's conduct legally caused the injuries . . . The first component of legal cause is causation in fact. Causation in fact is the purest legal application of . . . legal cause. The test for cause in fact is, simply, would the injury have occurred were it not for the actor's conduct . . . The second component of legal cause is proximate cause . . . [T]he test of proximate cause is whether the defendant's conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff's injuries . . . Further, it is the plaintiff who bears the burden to prove an unbroken sequence of events that tied his injuries to the [defendant's conduct] . . . The existence of the proximate cause of an injury is determined by looking from the injury to the negligent act complained of for the necessary causal connection . . . This causal ...


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