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Ford v. Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 20, 2016

JEFFREY FORD
v.
SAINT FRANCIS HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTER ET AL.

          Argued October 18, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Graham, J. [motion to intervene]; Elgo, J. [motions to set aside judgment, for new trial; judgment].

          Juri E. Taalman, with whom, on the brief, were Timothy Brignole and Joseph R. Serrantino, for the appellant (named plaintiff).

          Andrew S. Turret, for the appellees (defendants).

          Alvord, Prescott and Mihalakos, Js.

          OPINION

          ALVORD, J.

         The plaintiff, Jeffrey Ford, [1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a jury trial, in favor of the defendants, Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center (hospital), Turner Construction Company, RJB Contracting, Inc., and R.J.B. Concrete Pumping, LLC.[2] The plaintiff claims that the court improperly (1) denied his motion to set aside the jury verdict, (2) failed to give the jury an instruction on res ipsa loquitur, (3) failed to adequately instruct the jury regarding the nondelegable duty owed to business invitees, (4) allowed evidence of an event that occurred subsequent to the incident at issue, and (5) denied his motion for a new trial although he demonstrated that the jury applied the wrong burden of proof. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The plaintiff, employed by Terracon Consultants, Inc., was injured at a construction site located on Woodland Street in Hartford, which is the hospital's principal place of business. The plaintiff brought a negligence action against the defendants, claiming that they were the owner, general contractor, and subcontractors for the construction project, for their alleged failure to maintain safe work conditions at the site. At trial, the plaintiff testified that he sustained injuries to his shoulder and elbow when an employee of RJB dropped a bucket of concrete onto his arm from an elevated platform. The jury heard contradictory testimony, however, from the plaintiff's coworker, who testified that the plaintiff sustained his injuries while lowering the bucket of concrete to that coworker. Additionally, the plaintiff's employer testified that the plaintiff's version of the accident had been summarized in the employer's incident report. The plaintiff told his employer that he had lifted, rather than received, the bucket of concrete.

         On December 23, 2014, the jury returned a verdict for the defendants. In the jury interrogatories, the first question was whether the plaintiff had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendants were negligent. The jury responded ‘‘No, '' and it, therefore, was not necessary to answer the remaining questions addressed to comparative negligence and damages. The plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the verdict and a motion for a new trial on January 2, 2015. In his motion to set aside the verdict, the plaintiff claimed that the jury's verdict was not supported by the evidence. In his motion for a new trial, the plaintiff claimed ‘‘harmful juror error.'' The plaintiff alleged that his counsel spoke with the foreperson of the jury after the trial, who indicated that the jurors ‘‘were not convinced that the defendants did anything wrong.'' On the basis of that statement, the plaintiff argued that the jury had applied a ‘‘clear and convincing'' burden of proof rather than the appropriate ‘‘preponderance of the evidence'' standard.

         The court held a hearing on the plaintiff's posttrial motions on February 9, 2015. On April 2, 2015, the court issued its memorandum of decision denying the plaintiff's motions. The court concluded that there were differing versions of how the accident occurred and that the jury could have found that the plaintiff's testimony was ‘‘neither reasonable nor credible.'' Further, the court stated that ‘‘[t]he plaintiff's portrayal of the evidence . . . is misleading.'' With respect to the claim of juror error, the court, quoting from case law, stated that ‘‘[t]here is a presumption of regularity in civil proceedings including jury deliberations. . . . A court cannot resort to assumptions and conjecture when analyzing the basis of a jury's verdict.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) This appeal followed.

         We address only the claim that the trial court improperly failed to grant the plaintiff's motion for a new trial on the basis of his assertion that the jury applied the wrong burden of proof.[3] This claim merits discussion because it is a baseless attack on the jurors, who devoted several days of service to this particular trial.

         First, we note it is well established that ‘‘the testimony of jurors cannot be received to set aside a verdict on the ground of mistake or misconduct on the part of the jurors.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Aillon v. State, 168 Conn. 541, 549, 363 A.2d 49 (1975).[4] ‘‘[T]he various policies behind the rule [are] to give stability to the verdicts of jurors, to minimize the temptation for jury-tampering, and to prevent inquisition into the arguments and reasoning of the jurors that go into their ultimate verdict.'' Id., 550.

         We next address the plaintiff's specific allegation of ‘‘juror error.'' The plaintiff's counsel, after representing that he spoke with the jury foreperson after the trial, attributes a statement to her that the jury was ‘‘not convinced that the defendants did anything wrong.'' There is no indication as to whether this conversation occurred immediately after the verdict, while the jurors were still present in the courthouse, or days later. Further, there is no affidavit or other documentary evidence with respect to the exact words used by the foreperson in responding to the questions of the plaintiff's counsel. The plaintiff also did not request an evidentiary hearing.

         Instead, the plaintiff claims that this one alleged statement demonstrates that the jury employed a ‘‘clear and convincing'' burden of proof rather than the appropriate ‘‘preponderance of the evidence'' burden of proof. As support for this claim, the plaintiff argues that the only conclusion that could have been reached based on the evidence at trial was that an employee of RJB dropped a bucket of concrete onto the plaintiff's arm. As previously noted, however, there was contradictory evidence presented at trial as to how the accident occurred and, as noted by the trial court, ‘‘[t]he plaintiff's portrayal of the evidence . . . is misleading.'' We further note that the ...


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