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Williams v. Housing Authority of City of Bridgeport

Supreme Court of Connecticut

December 26, 2017

TWILA WILLIAMS, ADMINISTRATRIX (ESTATE OF TIANA N.A. BLACK), ET AL.
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF BRIDGEPORT ET AL.

          Argued January 19, 2017

          Daniel J. Krisch, for the appellants (defendant City of Bridgeport Fire Department et al.).

          John T. Bochanis, with whom, on the brief, was Thomas J. Weihing, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Vertefeuille, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          ESPINOSA, J.

         This certified appeal arises out of a tragic fire in which four residents of a Bridgeport public housing complex-Tiana N.A. Black and her three young children-lost their lives. The plaintiff, Twila Williams, as administratrix of the estate of each decedent, [1] brought the present action against the Bridgeport Fire Department and five Bridgeport city officials-Fire Chief Brian Rooney, Fire Marshal William Cosgrove, Mayor William Finch, Zoning Administrator Dennis Buckley, and Building Official Peter Paajanen-(collectively, the municipal defendants) as well as various other defendants who are not parties to the present appeal.[2" name="FN2" id="FN2">2] The plaintiff alleged, among other things, that the decedents died as a result of the municipal defendants' negligent failure to inspect the smoke detection equipment in their apartment unit for compliance with applicable fire safety codes and regulations. The trial court, Sommer, J., rendered summary judgment for the municipal defendants, concluding, with respect to their alleged failure to inspect, that Connecticut's municipal liability statute, General Statutes § 52-557n, afforded them immunity from liability. The Appellate Court reversed, concluding that a jury reasonably could find that the conduct of the municipal defendants demonstrated ‘‘a reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances'' and, therefore, that they were potentially liable pursuant to § 52-557n (b) (8).[3" name="FN3" id= "FN3">3]Williams v. Housing Authority, 159 Conn.App. 679, 696, 24 A.3d 537');">124 A.3d 537 (2015). We affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

         I

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our disposition of this appeal. On November 13, 2009, the date on which the fire occurred, the decedents resided in building 12, unit 205, of the P.T. Barnum Apartments, a group of affordable housing units owned and maintained by the Bridgeport Housing Authority. Unit 205 was located on the second and third floors of a three story apartment building containing twenty residential units. The second floor of the apartment contained a kitchen, a half bath, and a dining/ living room area, while the third floor housed three bedrooms and a full bath. Unit 205 had only a single point of ingress and egress, namely, a second floor door that opened onto a porch and an external staircase. Because the building lacked fire escapes, the only means of leaving unit 205 was through that door. This meant that an individual seeking to escape from the bedrooms on the third floor of unit 205 during an emergency had to travel down the internal staircase into the kitchen area, and then traverse the second floor dining/ living room area to access the door. Because of frequent false alarms caused by cooking fumes, some residents of the P.T. Barnum Apartments were in the habit of covering or disabling their smoke detectors.

         Pursuant to General Statutes § 29-305 (b), [4] the Bridgeport fire marshal's office is required to conduct annual inspections of all multifamily residential units within Bridgeport. It is undisputed that the neither the municipal defendants nor their employees conducted the mandatory inspection of unit 205 in the year prior to November 13, 2009. Just one day before, however, on the afternoon of November 12, two employees of the housing authority did conduct a routine maintenance inspection of unit 205. The lead inspector, Alexander Guzman, stated that he is certified by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to replace smoke detector batteries and carry out health and safety inspections of multiunit residential facilities. In the course of inspecting unit 205, he and his assistant tested the smoke detectors, replaced one non-functioning detector, and changed the battery in another. Guzman reported that all of the smoke detectors in unit 205 were functioning properly upon completion of his inspection.

         Hours later, in the early morning of Friday, November 13, a fire broke out in the kitchen of unit 205. Although neighbors reported seeing smoke and hearing smoke alarms prior to 12:45 a.m., they assumed that it was a false alarm and did not report the fire via a 911 telephone call until 12:56 a.m. The fire department arrived on the scene at 1:02 a.m. Firefighters extinguished the fire, gained entry to unit 205, and located and attempted to resuscitate the four decedents, each of whom subsequently was pronounced dead at an area hospital. The medical examiner concluded that all four had died of smoke inhalation. In addition, Black's blood alcohol level was found to be 0.23 percent.

         Both the fire department and the state police investigated the circumstances surrounding the fire. With respect to the cause of the fire, both agencies concluded that it was accidental. One neighbor reported that Black had been a heavy drinker, who often drank so much alcohol on weekend evenings that she would pass out on the couch and could not be wakened by her children. That same neighbor further reported that Black's ‘‘stove was always very dirty, covered with grease and food.'' Consistent with this report, fire investigators observed a bottle of alcohol on the floor of unit 205, the remnants of combustible packaging, snack chips, and debris piled on the counter tops adjacent to the kitchen stove, and several layers of burned grease caked on the stove itself. They also noted: the right rear burner of the gas stove was found in what was believed to be the ‘‘HI'' or ‘‘ON'' position; burn patterns suggested that the fire had originated near that burner; there was evidence of human activity near the stove at the time of the fire; and the burn injuries that Black sustained indicated that she had been in close proximity to the fire at some point, either when it ignited or in the course of trying to extinguish it. On the basis of these observations, investigators concluded that the conflagration was accidental and arose from a fire on the stove with human involvement. Fire department investigators specifically linked the fire to ‘‘carelessness, '' opining that ‘‘Black's blood alcohol content would likely have impaired her ability to respond appropriately to the initial alarm and to the fire itself.''

         Investigators also concluded that the five ionization type smoke detectors within unit 205 were operational at the time of the fire. With respect to the deaths of the decedents, investigators concluded that, given the locations of the bodies within unit 205, it was likely that all four of the decedents had been alerted to the fire and were attempting to leave at the time they died. Specifically, Black and Tyaisja Williams were found in the dining room area, just a few feet from the door; Nyaisja Williams was found on the living room floor; and Nyshon Williams was found near a window in one of the third floor bedrooms. Investigators concluded that the neighbors' delay of eleven minutes or more[5] in notifying the fire department of the fire, combined with Black's elevated blood alcohol content, may have contributed to the four deaths.

         The plaintiff commenced the present action against the defendants. In her revised complaint, the plaintiff alleged, among other things, that the municipal defendants failed to ensure that unit 205 complied with state building and fire safety codes, failed to remedy numerous defects in unit 205, and failed to conduct an annual fire safety inspection of unit 205 as required by § 29-305. The plaintiff specifically alleged that the municipal defendants knew or should have known about and remedied a number of asserted defects in unit 205, including the absence of fire escapes or other adequate means of egress, photoelectric smoke detectors, fire alarm systems, fire suppression systems, fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, and fire safety or prevention plans. She alleged that such conduct on the part of the municipal defendants was both negligent and reckless.

         The municipal defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming, among other things, that they were immune from liability for any claims of negligence pursuant to § 52-557n. With respect to allegations of negligence relating to discretionary conduct, the municipal defendants relied on § 52-557n (a) (2) (B), which provides in relevant part that ‘‘a political subdivision of the state shall not be liable for damages to person or property caused by . . . negligent acts or omissions which require the exercise of judgment or discretion as an official function of the authority expressly or impliedly granted by law.'' With respect to allegations of negligence relating to any nondiscretionary, ministerial duty, such as the duty annually to inspect unit 205, the municipal defendants relied on § 52-557n (b) (8), which provides in relevant part that ‘‘a political subdivision of the state or any employee, officer or agent acting within the scope of his employment or official duties shall not be liable for damages to person or property resulting from . . . failure to make an inspection or making an inadequate or negligent inspection of any property . . . to determine whether the property complies with or violates any law or contains a hazard to health or safety, unless the political subdivision had notice of such a violation of law or such a hazard or unless such failure to inspect or such inadequate or negligent inspection constitutes a reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances . . . .'' (Emphasis added.) The municipal defendants further contended that they had no actual notice of any defects or violations at unit 205 and, therefore, that there was no question that the two exceptions to municipal immunity contained in § 52-557n (b) (8)- notice of the alleged hazard or violation, and reckless disregard for health or safety-did not apply.

         In support of their motion for summary judgment, the municipal defendants submitted affidavits from Finch, Rooney, Cosgrove, Buckley, and Paajanen. Each affiant attested that, prior to November 13, 2009, neither he nor other Bridgeport employees knew of any code violation or safety hazard at unit 205. With the exception of Cosgrove, who offered no opinion as to his office's duty to inspect, each affiant also attested to a belief that he owed no duty to inspect unit 205. Rooney and Cosgrove specifically asserted in their affidavits that they were aware of and familiar with all the responsibilities and duties of the fire department and fire marshal's office, respectively.

         In her opposition to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff argued, among other things, that the municipal defendants' failure to conduct any inspection of unit 205, in alleged violation of § 29-305, constituted the negligent breach of a ministerial duty and, therefore, was not subject to immunity under § 52-557n (a) (2) (B). The plaintiff further contended that the municipal defendants were not entitled to immunity under § 52-557n (b) (8) because both of the exceptions contained in that subdivision allegedly applied to their conduct: (1) they were aware of various code violations at unit 205; and (2) their failure to conduct any inspections constituted a reckless disregard for health or safety. In support of these contentions, however, the plaintiff submitted only the affidavit of Mark Tebbets, an expert on the state building code. Tebbets opined that (1) unit 205 had not been compliant with applicable building and fire safety codes mandating the interconnection of smoke alarms[6] and the size of window openings, [7] (2) the fire department failed to conduct the required annual inspection of unit 205 to identify those violations, and (3) those undetected violations were causally related to the deaths of the decedents insofar as interconnection of the alarms would have provided earlier notice of the smoke and fire conditions in unit 205 and proper window openings would have facilitated escape from the fire.[8]

         The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipal defendants. With respect to their alleged failure to inspect unit 205, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to establish that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to either the notice exception or the reckless disregard exception in § 52-557n (b) (8). As to notice, the court observed that the plaintiff had not presented any evidence to contradict the municipal defendants' attestations that they were not aware of any of the alleged violations. As to recklessness, the trial court characterized the law as follows: ‘‘In the context of inspections, courts seem to agree that knowledge of a dangerous condition is necessary to show the type of reckless conduct necessary to defeat immunity pursuant to § 52-557n (b) (8).'' Accordingly, the court concluded that the lack of any evidence that the municipal defendants were aware of code violations or fire hazards at unit 205 also defeated the plaintiff's argument that the second statutory exception applied.

         The municipal defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on May 1, 2013. The plaintiff filed her objection on May 10 of that year, and the trial court issued its memorandum of decision on July 19, 2013, granting summary judgment in favor of the municipal defendants. One week before, on July 11, 2013, the plaintiff had deposed Rooney. During the course of that deposition, Rooney made numerous statements that, while not indicating any knowledge or awareness of specific code violations or safety hazards at unit 205 prior to the fire, arguably created questions of fact as to whether the municipal defendants demonstrated reckless disregard for the health or safety of the citizens of Bridgeport. For example, Rooney testified that:

• Bridgeport employs only ten fire inspectors, a number that is insufficient to inspect each of the 4000 to 5000 multifamily homes located there.
• Although Rooney requested additional fire inspectors in his 2013 budget, he had not requested additional inspectors in past years' budgets.
• Rooney previously had been named as a defendant in a lawsuit arising from a 2005 fire at a three-family residence located on Iranistan Avenue in which a mother and her two children lost their lives. The plaintiffs in that action alleged that the fire department had failed to inspect the property, as required by statute, and thus had failed to identify the fact that there were no smoke alarms present.
• Prior to that 2005 fire, Bridgeport's fire inspectors ‘‘weren't doing the [mandatory] inspections annually on [Bridgeport's more than 3000 three-family homes] unless there was a complaint.'' Rooney conceded: ‘‘I don't know what they were doing.'' Subsequently, in late 2007 and early 2008, all but one of Bridgeport's inspectors were fired for failing to carry out their inspection duties.
• In 2007 or 2008, Rooney spoke with then Fire Marshal Bruce Collins about the inspection procedure for public housing facilities in Bridgeport. Collins informed him that those facilities carried out their own inspections and, therefore, that the fire marshal's office within the fire department did not inspect them unless there was a complaint. Rooney explained that ‘‘[w]e didn't have the resources to do it when we knew that the housing authority was doing it.'' Rooney conceded, however, that the housing authority's internal inspections were not being conducted by a certified fire marshal-who must pass an examination and study code enforcement at the state fire marshal school-as required by law, and he did not know specifically what the internal inspections entailed.
• In 2013, upon concluding that the fire department lacked the resources to satisfy its statutory duty to conduct a certified inspection of every multifamily residence each year, Rooney began asking his fire officers to assist by conducting informal inspections to identify the most glaring violations. Those officers were to complete approximately 3600 inspections per year. Nevertheless, Rooney made no changes to fire department policy with respect to inspecting public housing facilities after the 2009 fire, due to an alleged lack of resources. Specifically, as of 2013, there still was no procedure in place to inspect the P.T. Barnum Apartments.
• Rooney claimed that he previously was unaware that the fire department was required by law to inspect public housing facilities each year, but that counsel for Bridgeport recently had made him aware of that obligation.
• Rooney was not familiar with any requirement that smoke detectors in multifamily dwelling units be interconnected. The fire department, with assistance from AmeriCorps volunteers, has installed 40, 000 smoke alarms in Bridgeport, none of which was interconnected.
• Rooney did not know the specific difference between ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. He was not aware of the alleged benefits of photoelectric detectors, and he had never considered whether the fire department should install those detectors in addition to or in lieu of ionization types. He also was not familiar with breakaway windows.
• Subsequent to the 2009 fire at issue in this case, Rooney and his staff spent several nights each week visiting each unit in the P.T. Barnum Apartments and checking the smoke detectors. In the course of those visits, he discovered that many of the residents had taken down or covered their smoke alarms in response to previous false alarms. Rooney was able to complete all of these visits in the course of three weeks to one month, after which he proceeded to visit other public housing complexes.
• Subsequent to the 2009 fire, Rooney and other town officials formed a task force to determine what could be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The first meeting of the task force was disrupted, however, and he did not recall that the group ever met again.[9]

         The transcript of Rooney's deposition was not before the trial court at the time the court decided the motion for summary judgment. On August 7, 2013, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration and/or reargument of the court's July 19 summary judgment ruling in favor of the municipal defendants. The stated basis for the motion was that, in his deposition, Rooney now conceded that the fire department was required by statute to conduct annual inspections of unit 205, but that the fire department did not in fact conduct these inspections due to a claimed lack of resources.[10]

         The municipal defendants raised both procedural and substantive arguments in response to the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and/or reargument. Procedurally, they argued that the motion was improper because it did not present any newly discovered evidence that could not have been included with the plaintiff's initial objection. Specifically, they argued that, at the time they sought summary judgment in May, 2013, the action had been pending for nearly two and one-half years, during which time the plaintiff had not even noticed the defendants' depositions. Substantively, they argued that Rooney's deposition did not afford a basis for reconsideration because there still was no indication that any of the municipal defendants were aware of dangerous conditions in unit 205. After holding a hearing, the trial court denied the motion for reconsideration and/or reargument without memorandum and rendered judgment for the municipal defendants.[11]

         The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which reversed the judgment of the trial court with respect to the determination that there is no question of material fact as to whether the municipal defendants are immune from liability under § 52-557n (b) (8) for failing to inspect unit 205.[2" name="FN12" id= "FN12">12] Williams v. Housing Authority, supra, 159 Conn.App. 681-82. After determining that § 52-557n (b) (8) is ambiguous and that the legislative history sheds no light on the meaning of the phrase ‘‘reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances, '' the Appellate Court looked to the common-law definition of recklessness. Williams v. Housing Authority, supra, 692-94. The court rejected the trial court's interpretation, concluding that treating the recklessness exception as imposing a notice requirement would conflate the two statutory exceptions- actual notice and reckless disregard-and render the latter superfluous. Id., 694 n.13. Instead, the Appellate Court construed the statute as follows: ‘‘A failure to inspect that constitutes a reckless disregard for health or safety under § 52-557n (b) (8) [is] one in which an individual is aware of the duty to inspect, recognizes the possible impact on public or individual health or safety, and makes the conscious decision not to perform that duty.'' (Emphasis altered.) Id., 694. Applying that interpretation of the statute, the Appellate Court concluded that a jury reasonably could find that the municipal defendants' failure to inspect unit 205 was reckless. Specifically, the court opined that ‘‘[i]t is counterintuitive to an average person that a purported expert, familiar with the duties and procedures of his own office, cannot appreciate the consequences when such duties are not carried out, especially when those duties involve the prevention of life-threatening fires. Thus, a reasonable juror could conclude that [the municipal defendants] would appreciate the natural consequences of their actions.''[3" name="FN13" id="FN13">13] Id., 696.

         The municipal defendants appealed from the judgment of the Appellate Court. We granted certification, limited to the following question: ‘‘Did the Appellate Court correctly conclude that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the [municipal] defendants' failure to inspect [unit 205] pursuant to . . . § 29-305 (b) constituted a ‘reckless disregard for health or safety' under . . . § 52-557n (b) (8)?'' Williams v. Housing Authority, 319 Conn. 947');">319 Conn. 947, 125 A.3d 528 (2015).

         II

         LEGAL ANALYSIS

         We are in agreement with-and the parties do not challenge-much of the Appellate Court's legal analysis. In brief, the decision of the Appellate Court correctly states the legal standards governing a motion for summary judgment and appellate review thereof; Williams v. Housing Authority, supra, 159 Conn.App. 688-89; determines that § 52-557n (b) (8) is ambiguous with respect to the exception for municipal immunity for conduct constituting ‘‘a reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances''; id., 692-93; and, therefore, looks to external sources such as the common law and the legislative history of the statute to clarify the meaning of that phrase and the standards by which it is to be applied. Id., 692-94.

         The primary source of disagreement between the parties is with respect to the legal standard that the Appellate Court ultimately adopted. The municipal defendants note that, under both our common law and our Penal Code, conduct is reckless only if it involves the disregard of a substantial risk or high probability of danger that is either known or so obvious that it should be known. See General Statutes § 53a-3 (13);[14] Matthiessen v. Vanech, 266 Conn. 822');">266 Conn. 822, 832-33, 36 A.2d 394');">836 A.2d 394 (2003). They argue that the Appellate Court applied an anomalous definition of recklessness and set the bar too low when it held that the reckless disregard exception in § 52-557n (b) (8) is satisfied when public officials merely recognize that failure to conduct a required inspection will have a possible impact on public or individual health or safety. See Williams v. Housing Authority, supra, 159 Conn.App. 694, 696. Adopting this possible impact standard, they contend, unjustifiably waters down the concept of recklessness and places an undue burden on overworked and under resourced municipal employees.

         For her part, the plaintiff makes little effort to defend the Appellate Court's novel possible impact standard, conceding in her brief that ‘‘[r]ecklessness or w[a]nton behavior implies a conscious disregard of a high risk, such as embarking upon a particularly dangerous course of action after actual warning.''[15] (Emphasis added.) Instead, she contends that, especially in light of the fact that the fire department's noninspection policy was alleged to have contributed to multiple deaths in the 2005 Iranistan Avenue fire, the trial court should have left to the jury the question of whether the fire department's ongoing failure to conduct any annual inspections of unit 205 constituted a reckless disregard of public health or safety.

         For the reasons discussed hereinafter, we conclude that neither of the lower courts properly articulated the standard that governs the reckless disregard exception contained in § 52-557n (b) (8). See part II A of this opinion. When the proper standard is applied, we agree with the Appellate Court that the plaintiff has created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the municipal defendants, in failing to inspect unit 205, exhibited a reckless disregard for public health or safety under all the relevant circumstances and, therefore, that the trial court should not have granted summary judgment on that issue. See part II B of this opinion.

         A

         As an initial matter, we agree with the Appellate Court that the plain language of § 52-557n (b) (8) will not support the trial court's interpretation of the reckless disregard exception. After reviewing Smart v. Corbitt, 26 Conn.App. 788');">126 Conn.App. 788, 3d 368');">14 A.3d 368, cert. denied, 301 Conn. 907');">301 Conn. 907, 3d 177');">19 A.3d 177 (2011), and several decisions of the Superior Court, the trial court concluded that ‘‘[i]n the context of inspections, courts seem to agree that knowledge of a dangerous condition is necessary to show the type of reckless conduct necessary to defeat immunity pursuant to § 52-557n (b) (8).'' Leaving aside the question of whether the trial court correctly parsed the cited case law, we note that the municipal liability statute carves out two distinct exceptions to municipal immunity for failure to inspect: when a political subdivision has notice of a violation or hazard, and when it demonstrates a reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances. See General Statutes § 52-557n (b) (8). Adopting the trial court's rule that reckless disregard can be proven only when public officials have knowledge of a dangerous condition would render the two exceptions essentially redundant, in violation of cardinal principles of statutory interpretation. See, e.g., American Promotional Events, Inc. v. Blumenthal, 285 Conn. 192');">285 Conn. 192, 203, 937 A.2d 1184 (2008).

         Nor are we persuaded, however, by the Appellate Court's alternative interpretation of the statute. Our own analysis diverges from that of the Appellate Court in three primary respects.

         1

         First, with regard to the statutory language itself, the Appellate Court decision focuses more or less exclusively on the meaning of the word ‘‘reckless'' in § 52-557n (b) (8) and does not address how, if at all, the phrase ‘‘under all the relevant circumstances'' modifies the meaning of ‘‘a reckless disregard for health or safety . . . .'' See Williams v. Housing Authority, supra, 3');">159 Conn.App. 693-95. At first blush, it may be tempting to assume that the relevant circumstances language is mere surplusage, as it is well established that recklessness, like negligence, generally can be assessed only in the context of particular factual circumstances. See State v. Montanez, 219 Conn. 16, 24 n.7, 2 A.2d 149');">592 A.2d 149 (1991); Bowen v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 122 Conn. 621, 624-25, 30');">191 A. 530 (1937). With respect to § 52-557n (b), however, we find it noteworthy that, whereas subdivision (8) carves out an exception for failures to inspect that constitute ‘‘a reckless disregard for health or safety under all the relevant circumstances''; (emphasis added); the immediately preceding subdivision, which addresses municipal liability for harms arising from the issuance or denial of licenses and permits, contains a similar recklessness exception, but omits the highlighted language. Section 52-557n (b) (7) provides in relevant part that ‘‘a political subdivision of the state or any employee, officer or agent acting within the scope of his employment or official duties shall not be liable for damages to person or property resulting from . . . the issuance, denial, suspension or revocation of, or failure or refusal to issue, deny, suspend or revoke any permit, license, certificate, approval, order or similar authorization, when such authority is a discretionary function by law, unless such issuance, denial, suspension or revocation or such failure or refusal constitutes a reckless disregard for health or safety . . . .'' (Emphasis added.) We must assume that the legislature's decision to include the ‘‘relevant circumstances'' language in subdivision (8), but to omit it from the otherwise identical exclusion provision in subdivision (7), was a purposeful one. See, e.g., State v. Heredia, 310 Conn. 742');">310 Conn. 742, 761, 3d 1163');">81 A.3d 1163 (2013).

         Although the statute itself provides no guidance as to the specific types of circumstances that are to be taken into account when assessing the recklessness of a municipality's decision not to conduct a health or safety inspection, [16] the legislature's use of the modifying phrase ‘‘under all the relevant circumstances''; (emphasis added) General Statutes § 52-557n (b) (8); suggests that we are to view the exception through a broad lens. In the context of a failure to inspect, it is reasonable to assume that any of the following factors, among others, may be relevant: whether the inspection is mandated by statute or regulation; how frequently inspections are required to be conducted; the nature and severity of the threat to health or safety that the inspection is intended to identify or thwart; whether, and how frequently, threats of that sort have come to pass in the past, either at the location in question or at similar locations; whether the premises involved featured any unique or atypical susceptibilities to risk; the reasons why the inspection was not conducted; whether the failure to inspect was an isolated event or part of a policy or pattern; the number of properties or locations that went without inspection; whether other municipalities or jurisdictions routinely neglect to carry out inspections of the type at issue; the availability and adequacy of alternative means of identifying and thwarting the threats at issue; and whether the municipal officials involved were aware or should have been aware of the answers to each of these questions. As we discuss more fully in part II B of this opinion, in the present case, many, if not most, of these factors would appear, on the record before us as construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, to support a potential finding that the municipal defendants' longstanding policy of not inspecting any of Bridgeport's public or three-family housing facilities for fire risks and not educating themselves as to the adequacy of the housing authority's own internal inspections demonstrated a reckless disregard for health or safety under the circumstances.

         2

         Second, we disagree with the Appellate Court's assessment that the legislative history of § 52-557n (b) (8) fails to illuminate the meaning of the reckless disregard exception. Williams v. Housing Authority, supra, 3');">159 Conn.App. 693. That provision was enacted as part of No. 86-338 of the 1986 Public Acts. It is true that, in other contexts, we have characterized the legislative history of § 52-557n as ‘‘worse than murky . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., quoting San-zone v. Board of Police Commissioners, 219 Conn. 179');">219 Conn. 179, 188, 2 A.2d 912');">592 A.2d 912 (1991). The lengthy legislative debates do reveal, however, that the drafters of the tort reform legislation of 1986 envisioned that the question of whether the violation of a statutory obligation constitutes reckless disregard for public health or safety for purposes of municipal immunity ordinarily would be one for the trier of fact. For example, when asked to clarify how the reckless disregard standard would apply to injuries caused by a school bus driven with tires lacking sufficient tread, an author of the bill, Representative Robert G. Jaekle, responded: ‘‘[I]f I were the attorney for the children . . . I would certainly make a case that the driving of that school bus with tread below the legal limit was more than mere negligence and would probably cite some statutes or [Department of Motor Vehicles] regulations about tread on tires as an indication that that was reckless. . . . [T]hat I believe would at least get me into court to try that issue and see whether I could prove how bad that negligence was and whether that crossed the line into reckless action on the part of the municipality.''[17] (Emphasis added.) 29 H.R. Proc., Pt. 16, 1986 Sess., pp. 5899-900; see also id., p. 5936, remarks of Representative Robert G. Jaekle (‘‘as in so many of these hypotheticals, much is left to a decision of fact as to whether we are into negligence or into wilful or wanton or reckless''); 29 H.R. Proc., Pt. 22, 1986 Sess., pp. 8116-17, remarks of Representative Robert G. Jaekle (suggesting that, depending on specific facts of case, municipal inspector's total failure to visit building site might amount to ‘‘reckless disregard for . . . health and safety under all the relevant circumstances''). But see 29 H.R. Proc., Pt. 22, 1986 Sess., p. 8120, remarks of Representative Robert G. Jaekle (opining that when municipal inspector fails to identify defect in new construction caused by third party, third party should bear liability for injuries resulting from defect).

         The legislative history of the municipal immunity statute thus supports the plaintiff's argument that recklessness ordinarily presents a question of fact for the jury and controverts the municipal defendants' contention that, especially in the context of a failure to inspect, ‘‘it [is] a daunting task just to get to a jury on recklessness.''[18] In this respect, the apparent legislative intent with respect to municipal inspections is consistent with the general rule that, when a defendant's conduct represents more than mere ‘‘momentary thoughtlessness or inadvertence, '' whether it rises to the level of ‘‘reckless or wanton misconduct on any given state of facts [ordinarily] is a question of fact for the jury.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Brock v.Waldron, 27 Conn. 79');">127 Conn. 79, 83, 2d 713');">14 A.2d 713 (1940); accord Frillici v.Westp ...


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