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Schmid v. Hassinger

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Waterbury, Waterbury

October 7, 2015

Ryan Schmid
v.
Drew Hassinger

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT #113

Andrew W. Roraback, J.

FACTS

The following facts, construed in favor of the non-moving plaintiff, Ryan Schmid, are relevant to the disposition of this motion. They are drawn from the testimonial and documentary evidence submitted by both parties in support of their respective positions.

On the night of September 7, 2012, the plaintiff attended a party at a home in Woodbury owned by the defendant, Drew Hassinger. While the plaintiff was an uninvited guest at this affair, the defendant has agreed, nevertheless, that he should possess the legal status of a social invitee for the purpose of deciding this motion. The plaintiff left the party as a passenger in a 2005 Ford Mustang operated by the apportionment defendant, Patrick Nadolny (hereinafter " Nadolny"). That vehicle proceeded from the defendant's home down an unlit, narrow, long, and winding driveway towards the public highway. Before it reached that street, the vehicle inadvertently deviated from the paved surface of the driveway and collided with a fieldstone pillar located on the side of the driveway. There were no street lights in the vicinity of the collision nor was there exterior lighting emanating from the defendant's home. In addition, the pillar was not itself illuminated, and no reflectors were on the pillar which might cause it to be visible when headlights were shined on it. The force of the collision resulted in the plaintiff suffering a broken hip and other serious injuries.

No evidence was presented to suggest that anything about the driveway or the pillar violated any provision of the Woodbury zoning regulations or any applicable building code. Nevertheless, the plaintiff has alleged that the defendant was negligent in a number of ways in connection with the placement and operation of his driveway and the pillar. Among these allegations are claims of improper warnings, inadequate lighting, and inappropriate placement of the subject pillar.

On March 17, 2015, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment together with a memorandum and supporting material. The plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to this motion together with supporting material on June 4, 2015. Argument on the motion was heard on June 16, 2015. This decision follows.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

" Practice Book § 17-49 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to 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." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Neuhaus v. Decholnoky, 280 Conn. 190, 199, 905 A.2d 1135 (2006). " In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to decide issues of material fact, but rather to determine whether any such issues exist." Nolan v. Borkowski, 206 Conn. 495, 500, 538 A.2d 1031 (1988). " [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). Summary judgment " is appropriate only if a fair and reasonable person could conclude only one way." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Dugan v. Mobile Medical Testing Services, Inc., 265 Conn. 791, 815, 830 A.2d 752 (2003).

" 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 . . . As the burden of proof is on the movant, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opponent . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue. Once the moving party has met its burden, however, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue . . . It is not enough, however, for the opposing party merely to assert the existence of such a disputed issue. Mere assertions of fact . . . are insufficient to establish the existence of a material fact and, therefore, cannot refute evidence properly presented to the court under Practice Book § [17-45]." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Zielinski v. Kotsoris, 279 Conn. 312, 318-19, 901 A.2d 1207 (2006)

DISCUSSION

In this case, the defendant has moved for summary judgment on the ground that it will not be possible for the plaintiff to prove that a defect existed on the premises and, therefore, a finding of premises liability is precluded. In support of his position, the defendant cites Martin v. Stop & Shop Supermarket Companies, Inc., 70 Conn.App. 250, 252, 796 A.2d 1277 (2002). He has also submitted an affidavit from William Vliet, an expert engineer, which indicates that " there was no defect with the driveway or stone pillars that in any way contributed to the cause of this accident, " and that the design of the driveway and pillars conform with applicable government requirements. In addition, Vliet states that the design of the driveway " results in vehicle headlights, when leaving the property and approaching the stone pillars, to project light on the stone pillars from a minimum distance of seventy-five feet." He further concludes that Nadolny's Mustang hit the pillar at a time when his vehicle was travelling at a speed of greater than 25 miles per hour.

In opposition to the motion, the plaintiff points to Nadolny's testimony that even though he had his headlights on, he did not see the pillar before he hit it because it was dark and foggy and the pillar had no lights on it. The plaintiff also points to the conflicting testimony from Nadolny, the plaintiff, and the plaintiff's brother, Tyler, as to the speed at which the vehicle was travelling prior to the collision.

" 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." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Maffucci v. Royal Park Ltd. Partnership, 243 Conn. 552, 566, 707 A.2d 15 (1998).

As a social invitee, the defendant owed the plaintiff " a duty to use reasonable care to maintain [his] premises in a reasonably safe condition . . . The defendant's duty to use reasonable care included the duty to warn the plaintiff-invitee of dangers which the plaintiff could not reasonably be expected to anticipate." (Citations omitted.) Warren v. Stancliff, 157 Conn. 216, 218, 251 A.2d 74 (1968). " To hold the defendant liable for [his] personal injuries, the plaintiff must prove (1) the existence of a defect, (2) that the defendant knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known about the defect, and (3) that such defect had existed for such a length of time that the [defendant] should, ...


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