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Ayala v. Sandoval

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Danbury, Danbury

February 28, 2017



          Anthony D. Truglia, Jr., J.

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Jason Ayala, filed an amended complaint (the complaint) in this action dated December 9, 2016 against defendants Raul Sandoval, Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois (Safeco), Sabrosura, LLC and Jose Contreras. The plaintiff alleges the following salient facts in support of his claims for damages from each of the defendants. In the first count of his complaint, the plaintiff alleges that on the evening of June 21, 2015 at approximately 11:38 p.m., he was a pedestrian crossing Main Street in Danbury near its intersection with White and Elm Streets. At that time, defendant Raul Sandoval (Sandoval) " entered a Volkswagen" automobile " that was parked near 278 Main Street, in Danbury." " At that date, time and place, [Sandoval] put the Volkswagen into motion, went up and over the sidewalk and grass area that separates the northbound and southbound lanes of Main Street, and struck the plaintiff." After striking the plaintiff with his automobile, Sandoval fled the scene. The plaintiff alleges that the collision, and his resulting injuries and losses, were caused by Sandoval's negligence in one or more of eight ways, including operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle at a rate of speed greater than was reasonable under circumstances then prevailing. The plaintiff alleges that as a direct result of Sandoval's negligence, he sustained injuries to his right arm, neck and lower back, some of which may be permanent.

         The second count of the plaintiff's complaint alleges damages for statutory recklessness and claims double or treble damages in accordance with General Statutes § 14-295. The plaintiff repeats the same factual allegations of his negligence claims and further alleges that the collision was caused by Sandoval in that he " deliberately or with reckless disregard to the safety of others, operated a motor vehicle in violation of [General Statutes] § 14-227a [and] § 14-222, as to endanger the life of the plaintiff, and that such violation(s) was/were a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries and damages." The third count repeats the Allegations of the second count and claims damages from Sandoval for common law recklessness.

         In the fourth count of the complaint, the plaintiff repeats the eight allegations of negligent operation of a motor vehicle against Sandoval and further alleges that at the time of the incident, the plaintiff " was an insured and/or a covered person under the terms of a policy of insurance issued by Safeco (the Safeco policy). The plaintiff alleges that at the time of the collision described in his complaint, Sandoval did not have an applicable automobile liability insurance coverage available to him. The plaintiff claims that, under the terms of the Safeco policy, " Safeco is obligated to pay to [the plaintiff] all damages which he is legally entitled to recover from [Sandoval], up to the uninsured motorist coverage limits of the Safeco policy." Despite demand upon Safeco for payment of benefits under the aforementioned policy, the plaintiff alleges that Safeco has failed to pay damages he is entitled to recover. Finally, in the fifth count of his complaint, the plaintiff repeats the allegations of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving of the second count, and claims damages under the Safeco policy for Sandoval's reckless operation of his motor vehicle.

         Safeco has filed an answer admitting that (1) the insurance policy that it issued to the plaintiff contained coverage for uninsured/underinsured motorists (UM coverage) and (2) the policy was in effect on the day of the collision. Safeco also filed five special defenses to the plaintiff's claims.

         Safeco deposed the plaintiff on October 18, 2016. During the deposition, the following exchange Occurred when the plaintiff was asked to describe what happened in the moments prior to the collision.

Q. Did he take a swing at you with that metal bar?

A. Yes.

Q. Did he ever hit you with that bar?

A. Close.

Q. But he didn't actually hit you?

A. No.

Q. At some point you said Edder came in and basically grabbed the bar away from Raul?

A. Yes.

Q. Was Raul still mad at that point?

A. Really mad.

Q. Then you said he got into his car, correct?

A. I did, correct.

Q. So Edder got in the passenger side with him?

The plaintiff also asserts a sixth count in his complaint against the restaurant which allegedly served Sandoval prior to the incident, Sabrosura, LLC, and its permittee, Jose Contreras, claiming damages under the Dram Shop Act, General Statutes § § 30-102, et seq.

A. Yes.

Q. Then you say he directed his car right at you when he started it up?

A. He backed it up like this and just - - he was looking at me, he started spinning his tires And went straight at me.

Q. Did you see if Edder tried to do anything to see if he tried to stop Raul from running you Down?

A. No. It happened so fast.

Q. From what you saw he was trying to hit you?

A. Yes.

         Based on this testimony, Safeco requested permission to file a motion for summary judgment after the case had been assigned for trial pursuant to Practice Book § 17-44 (#133). The court granted that motion on December 2, 2016. Thereafter, Safeco filed the motion for summary judgment (#137) that is now before the court. Safeco argues that it is entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law because there is no genuine issue of fact as to how the collision occurred on the evening of June 21, 2015. The plaintiff alleges in the second, third and fifth counts of his complaint that he was injured by the deliberate, reckless and intentional acts of Sandoval. The plaintiff s deposition testimony leaves no doubt that Sandoval intentionally drove into him and caused his injuries. The plaintiff also produced, in response to Safeco's discovery requests, a copy of the voluntary statement he made to investigating officers four days after the incident. In that statement, the plaintiff wrote that Sandoval " got in his car, spun his tires, did not care how many people was watching and ran me over with his car. He tried to kill me, hit me so hard I was spinning in the air landing on top [of Sandoval's car]" (Exhibit A to Safeco's reply, #147). The undisputed evidence in this case, Safeco argues, proves that the collision that injured the plaintiff was not an accident. Safeco has no obligation to pay UM coverage damages to its insured unless the injuries are " 1. Sustained by the insured; and 2. Caused by an accident." Therefore, because the collision was not an accident, Safeco argues it has no liability to the plaintiff for damages of any kind and, accordingly, summary judgment should enter in its favor.

         The plaintiff makes two arguments in response to Safeco's motion. First, the plaintiff argues that there is a genuine issue of material fact with regard to Sandoval's conduct that undercuts Safeco's motion. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that " [s]imply stated, this is a drunk driving case", and that there is no evidence to support Safeco's assertion that Sandoval intentionally drove off the paved portion of the road in order to injure the plaintiff. The plaintiff further argues that there is no evidence that Sandoval pleaded guilty To an intentional assault upon the plaintiff and, therefore, the question of whether his actions were intentional or just extremely reckless remains open. Second, the plaintiff argues that Connecticut case law, in addition to case law in other jurisdictions, supports extending UM coverage to persons injured as a result of an intentional assault by an automobile. Therefore, even if Safeco were to prove at trial that Sandoval's actions were intentional, the plaintiff is still entitled to coverage.

         II. Discussion

         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 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). The purpose of a motion for summary judgment is to dispose of actions lacking a triable issue of material fact. Dorazio v. M. B. Foster Electric Co., 157 Conn. 226, 228, 253 A.2d 22 (1968). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Rodriguez v. Testa, 296 Conn. 1, 6, 993 A.2d 955 (2010). " The test is whether a party would be entitled to a directed verdict on the same facts." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. v. Carriage Lane Associates, 219 Conn. 772, 781, 595 A.2d 334 (1991). As a result, " [t]he 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." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Zielinski v. Kotsoris, 279 Conn. 312, 318, 901 A.2d 1207 (2006).Moreover, insurance coverage disputes, which turn on the court's interpretation of the insurance contract, are well suited for motions for summary judgment. See, e.g., Allstate Ins. Co. v. Quito, United States District Court, Docket No. 3:06CV1671 (PCD) (D. Conn. July 29, 2007) (" [I]t is the function of the court to construe the provisions of the insurance contract and, if no material facts are at issue, the question of whether coverage exists is a question of law that is appropriately decided on a motion for summary judgment."). Here, the question of whether Safeco is liable to the plaintiff is a question of law, to be decided by comparing the Allegations of the complaint with the terms of the policy and, therefore, is properly before this court on a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Hartford Casualty Ins. Co. v. Litchfield Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 274 Conn. 457, 876 A.2d 1139 (2005); Imperial Casualty & Indemnity Co. v. State, 246 Conn. 313, 324, 714 A.2d 1230 (1998) (" An insurance policy is to be interpreted by the same general rules that govern the construction of any written contract and enforced in accordance with the real intent of the parties as expressed.

         In the language employed in the policy The determinative question is the intent of the parties, that is, what Coverage the ... [insured] expected to receive and what the [insurer] was to provide, as disclosed by the provisions of the policy." [citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted]).

         Safeco first argues that the purpose of UM coverage is to place the insured in the same position he would have been in had the tortfeasor carried sufficient insurance to make the injured party whole. " [U]ninsured motorist coverage ... is statutorily intended to provide the reciprocal or mutual equivalent of Automobile liability coverage prescribed by the Financial Responsibility Law... To achieve this purpose. No policy exclusions contrary to the statute of any of the class of family insureds are permissible since uninsured motorist coverage is intended by the statute to be uniform and standard motor vehicle accident liability insurance for the protection of such insureds there under as 'if the uninsured motorist had carried the minimum limits' of an automobile liability policy.... The public policy embodied in these statutes favors indemnification of accident victims unless they are responsible for the accident." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Harvey v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 188 Conn. 245, 249-50, 449 A.2d 157 (1982).Nonetheless, Safeco argues that Sandoval's actions in deliberately driving off the paved roadway and into the plaintiff " with willful intent to hit him" would void any policy he would have had in effect at the time of the loss. Therefore, Safeco asserts that the plaintiff would not have been legally entitled to recover any damages from Sandoval, even if he had insurance in place on the date of the incident. Safeco's policy with the plaintiff obligates it to pay " damages which an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle or underinsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury: 1. Sustained by that insured; and 2. Caused by an accident." In the present case, because the plaintiff would not be " legally entitled to recover" any damages from Sandoval's carrier, Safeco argues that it has no contractual obligation to pay any damages to the plaintiff. See Caulfieldv.Arnica Mutual Ins. Co., 31 Conn.App. 781, 787, 627A.2d 466, cert, denied, 227 Conn. 913, 632 A.2d 688 (1993) (" [H]ad [the tortfeasor], the uninsured motorist, maintained his own policy of liability insurance in this case, [the plaintiff] would not have been able to recover punitive damages from [the tortfeasor's] insurer.").Next, Safeco argues that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that Sandoval's conduct was intentional, not ...

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