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Scandul v. Student Transportation of America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 22, 2017

Linda SCANDUL, Plaintiff,


          Jenet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Linda Scandul ("Plaintiff or "Ms. Scandul") brings this diversity action claiming significant injuries received when her car was rear-ended by a school bus owned by Defendant Student Transportation of America ("STA") and driven by STA's employee, Defendant Mary Pryce ("Ms. Pryce") while Plaintiff was stopped in a lane of traffic waiting to turn left from Post Road onto Field Road in Greenwich, Connecticut. Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint [Doc. #21] asserts six counts: (1) common law negligence against Ms. Pryce; (2) statutory recklessness under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14 - 295 against Ms. Pryce; (3) common law recklessness against Ms. Pryce;[1] (4) common law negligence, negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention against STA; (5) vicarious liability against STA under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-295; and (6) common law vicarious liability against STA. Defendants seek to dismiss Counts Two, Three, and Five and to dismiss, or in the alternative, to strike portions of Count Four. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED with respect to Count Five and DENIED with respect to Counts Two and Three. Defendant's motion to strike the request for punitive damages under Count Four is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         The Complaint alleges that around 8:30 AM on March 31, 2015 a school bus driven by Defendant Mary Pryce and owned by Defendant STA rear-ended Plaintiffs Honda, causing significant injuries. (Amended Complaint ("Compl.") [Doc. # 21] at § 25-26.) Plaintiff was traveling east on Post Road in Greenwich, Connecticut and had come to a complete stop in the northernmost east-bound lane while waiting to turn left. (Id. at § 45.) The collision propelled her car forward nineteen feet. (Id. at § 27.)

         Plaintiff alleges on information and belief that the bus was driving too fast for the conditions, that the driver, Defendant Pryce, turned her attention away from the roadway, and that the bus driver failed either to swerve to avoid the collision or to honk. (Id. at §§ 47-49.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Pryce admitted she could not see Plaintiffs car because of "intense sun glare." (Id. at § 50.)

         Plaintiff also alleges a series of fourteen alternative grounds on which STA should be held liable for failure to properly train or supervise, including that the bus was not properly equipped with brakes or steering mechanisms, that STA permitted Ms. Pryce to drive while impaired, that STA failed to maintain proper records, that STA failed to ensure that Ms. Pryce had proper driving skills, that STA failed to conduct adequate background checks, and other reasons.

         II. Discussion

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although detailed allegations are not required, a claim will be found facially plausible only if "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Id. at 678-79; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

         Defendants move to dismiss Counts Two and Three on the ground that Plaintiff has not pled facts sufficient to support a cause of action for statutory or common law recklessness, as opposed to mere negligence. Defendants move to strike the request for punitive relief from Count Four. Defendant moves to dismiss Count Five because a Plaintiff cannot recover multiple damages from a defendant who is only vicariously liable under Connecticut law.

         A. Count Three: Common Law Recklessness as against Mary Pryce

         Counts Two and Three are identical except for the caption beneath the section heading, the second count seeking multiple damages for "statutory recklessness" pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-295, and the third seeking damages for "common law recklessness." Defendants challenge the sufficiency of the pleadings to support allegations of recklessness under either theory. Since statutory recklessness requires the same level of culpability as common law recklessness, the analysis will first address Count Three, common law recklessness.[2] See Deckler v. Olander, No. 3:12-CV-00277, 2014 WL 359064, at *2 (D. Conn. Feb. 3, 2014) (holding that under Bishop v. Kelly, 206 Conn. 608, 614 (1988), the same level of culpability is required for common law and statutory recklessness).

         In Connecticut, "[r]ecklessness is a state of consciousness with reference to the consequences of one's acts." Dubay v. Irish, 542 A.2d 711, 718 (Conn. 1988). Recklessness is "more than negligence, more than gross negligence." Bordonaro v. Senk, 109 Conn. 428, 429 (1929). "Although the state of mind amounting to recklessness may be inferred from conduct, to infer the proper state of mind, there must be something more than a failure to exercise a reasonable degree of watchfulness to avoid danger to others or to take reasonable precautions to avoid injury to them." Lee v. Coss, 201 F.3d 431 (2d Cir. 1999), citing Dubay, 542 A.2d at 718. In short, recklessness is "highly unreasonable conduct, involving an extreme departure from ordinary care, in a situation where a high degree of danger is apparent." Dubay, 542 A.2d. at 719.

[W]illful, wanton, or reckless conduct tends to take on the aspect of highly unreasonable conduct, involving an extreme departure from ordinary care, in a situation where a high degree of danger is apparent. ... It is at least clear .. . that such aggravated negligence must be more than any mere mistake resulting from inexperience, excitement, or confusion, and more than mere thoughtlessness or inadvertence, or simply inattention.

Deckler, 2014 WL 359064, at *2 (citing Craig v. Driscoll, 262 Conn. 312, 342-43 (2003)). As the Connecticut Supreme Court has pointed out, "[r]ecklessness requires a conscious choice of a course of action either with knowledge of the serious danger to others involved in it or with knowledge of facts which would disclose this danger to any reasonable man." Bishop v. Kelly, 206 Conn. 608, 614(1988).

         Connecticut cases dealing with motor vehicle accidents reflect that a driver's conscious decision to look away from the road or to continue driving while distracted suffice to support claims of driver recklessness. See Duquette v. Daversa, No. CV-15-6059209-S, 2016 WL 1578263 (Conn. Super. Ct. New Haven, Mar. 29, 2016 (Lager, J.)) (finding allegations of recklessness sufficient where "[the driver] knew she was operating a motor vehicle on a heavily traveled public highway and that it was dangerous to look in a direction other than that in which she was traveling, but that she consciously decided to take her eyes off the road.); see also Titus v. Holcomb, No. LLICV136009681S, 2014 WL 1345322, at *3 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 11, 2014 (Danaher, J.)) (finding allegations sufficient where the defendant drove through a stop sign into the path of an approaching vehicle that was clearly visible because of its headlights: "the defendant was distracted and, therefore, possessed the state of mind necessary for a recklessness claim.")

         Defendants focus on the degree of danger necessary and argue that recklessness requires much more egregious conduct than mere distraction, citing a case in which a driver was convicted of second degree manslaughter for killing a cyclist while driving more than 80 miles per hour in a forty-five mile per hour zone on a foggy night and trying to pass a car moving at the speed limit. State v. Weaving,125 Conn.App. 41 (2010). While the facts in Weaving clearly would support a jury finding of recklessness, they do not ...

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