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Shugrue v. Q Sono, LLC

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield, Bridgeport

September 24, 2015

James Shugrue
v.
Q Sono, LLC

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

George N. Thim, Judge Trial Referee.

Defendant Q Sono, LLC has filed three post-trial motions: (1) Motion to Set Aside Verdict; (2) Motion for New Trial; and (3) Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict. The motions address the jury's verdict on the complaint filed by Plaintiff James Shugrue against Q Sono and the jury's verdict on the third-party complaint filed by Q Sono against Two Faced Restaurant Group, LLC., d/b/a Barcelona (hereafter called " Barcelona"). The relief requested by Q Sono with respect to the complaint is denied. The relief requested by Q Sono for a new trial on its claim against the third-party defendant is granted. The motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict is denied.

I. Complaint

Plaintiff Shugrue was employed as a bartender by Barcelona. He suffered injuries when he fell while ascending a stairway that connects a basement work area of Barcelona Restaurant to a first floor work area. Barcelona leases the restaurant space from Q Sono, LLC., the owner of the building. Shugrue sued Q Sono. A jury rendered a verdict in Shugrue's favor awarding him $87, 778.60 as compensation for his injuries. Q Sono wants this court to set aside this verdict and to grant a new trial on the claim or, in the alternative, to enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in Q Sono's favor.

Defendant Q Sono argues that if certain hearsay statements had been barred from evidence there would not have been sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict in favor of Plaintiff James Shugrue. Without this evidence, Q Sono argues, there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find Q Sono was in possession or control of the area where plaintiff Shugrue fell and injured himself. Defendant Q Sono did not object to the hearsay statements although an objection to the evidence was made by the third-party defendant, Barcelona.

Q Sono's motions with respect to Shugrue's claim are based on the premise that the lease alone, in the absence of the hearsay evidence, is an insufficient factual basis for the jury to find Q Sono had possession and control of the stairway where Shugrue fell. The lease is sufficient.

Plaintiff Shugrue alleged in his complaint that the stairs were in an unsafe and dangerous condition. He testified that he slipped and fell due to the fact the stair treads were worn down and rounded off from use. The lease requires Q Sono to make " all repairs to . . . structural members such as steel columns, beams . . . and the Premises outward to the street . . ." The term " structural members" is not defined in the lease. The word " structural" is defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1971 ed.) as meaning " of or relating to the load-bearing members or scheme of a building as opposed to the screening or ornamental elements." The word " staircase" is defined as meaning " the structure containing a stairway." A fair, logical reading of the lease places responsibility for all repairs to the stairway on the landlord. The stair treads are not merely " screening or ornamental elements." They relate to a structural part of the building. The defect had existed long enough, three to four years, for the landlord to have known it existed had the landlord exercised a reasonable inspection or supervision of its property. If the hearsay evidence about which the defendant now complains is removed from consideration, there is still sufficient evidence to support the jury's decision in favor of Plaintiff Shugrue.

Q Sono further claims that this court's jury instructions improperly allowed the jury to interpret a commercial lease when the representatives of the parties to the lease, Q Sono and Barcelona, stated Barcelona was responsible for the maintenance and repair of the stairway. The section of the lease pertaining to repairs and maintenance, Article VII (Trial Exhibit 12), does not specifically state who is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the stairway but provides that the landlord is responsible for " structural repairs." In responses to a Request for Admissions filed by Q Sono, Barcelona stated that it was responsible for the repair and maintenance of the stairway. Barcelona's admissions were neither conclusive on Shugrue nor binding on the jury during its evaluation of Shugrue's claim against Q Sono. " An admission by one party can only be used against that party, and not against another party or person." Tait's Handbook of Connecticut Evidence, § 8.16.4 (Fifth Ed.). The jury was entitled to give Barcelona's admissions whatever probative weight, if any, it decided was appropriate. The jury may well have accepted the plaintiff's theory that the landlord and tenant were working together to take advantage of Barcelona's workers' compensation immunity.

Defendant Q Sono's motion to set aside the verdict on the complaint in favor of James Shugrue is denied.

II. Third-Party Complaint

After Q Sono was sued by Shugrue, Q Sono filed a third-party complaint against Barcelona claiming Barcelona was required under the terms of a lease to reimburse Q Sono for any sums that Q Sono may be required to pay Shugrue. The jury decided this claim against Q Sono. Q Sono contends this verdict is unjust and should be set aside and a new trial granted.

" Any motion for a new trial is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court . . . The basic question which the trial court has to decide is whether upon all the evidence an injustice had been done." Burr v. Lichtenheim, 190 Conn. 351, 355, 460 A.2d 1290 (1983).

Barcelona made numerous admissions in response to a Request for Admissions made by Q Sono. Barcelona admitted that it was responsible for the repair and maintenance of the stairway where Shugrue fell. The admissions were before the jury for its consideration as Trial Exhibit A.

Answers in response to a request for admissions are judicial admissions. Judicial admissions are conclusive on the party making them and are conclusive, in the absence of special circumstances, on the fact finder. In this litigation, the admissions are conclusive in regard to the claim made by Q Sono against Barcelona but not in ...


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