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Government Employees Insurance Co. v. Barros

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 28, 2018


          Argued May 21, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover uninsured motorist benefits paid by the plaintiff to one of its insureds for injuries sustained as a result of the named defendant's alleged negligence, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Danbury and tried to the court, Truglia, J.; judgment for the plaintiff, from which the defendants appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Peter N. Buzaid, for the appellants (defendants).

          Joseph M. Busher, Jr., for the appellee (plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Bright and Moll, Js.


          DiPENTIMA, C.J.

         The defendants, Arly Barros and Anthony's Services, LLC, appeal from the judgment of the trial court in favor of the plaintiff, Government Employees Insurance Company, on its claim for equitable subrogation.[1] On appeal, the defendants claim that the court erred by concluding that the statute of limitations set forth in General Statutes § 52-577 or General Statutes § 52-584 does not apply to bar the plaintiff's claim for equitable subrogation. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the defendants' claim. On September 30, 2012, on Federal Road in Danbury, a vehicle operated by the plaintiff's insured and subrogor, Dawn Williams, was stopped at a traffic light when it was struck by an uninsured vehicle operated by Barros and owned by Anthony's Services, LLC.[2] As a result of the collision, Williams sustained serious physical injuries for which she received extensive medical treatment, including several surgical procedures. The total cost of her medical care was approximately $189, 000. On or about November 12, 2015, the plaintiff resolved Williams' claim in the amount of $100, 000, the limit of her bodily injury coverage under the uninsured motorist provisions of her policy.

         On February 8, 2016, the plaintiff commenced the present action for equitable subrogation. In their answer, the defendants raised the special defense that the claim was barred by two statutes of limitations applicable to the underlying claims of negligent operation of a motor vehicle: §§ 52-577[3] and 52-584.[4]

         On June 14, 2017, the matter was tried to the court, Truglia, J. The defendants presented no evidence; in their summation, they iterated their special defense. Specifically, the defendants indicated that the accident occurred on September 30, 2012, but the plaintiff did not effect service of process until February 8, 2016. Accordingly, the defendants contended, the action was not commenced within three years of the ‘‘act or omission complained of'' and was time barred pursuant either to § 52-577 or § 52-584. The defendants further argued that the plaintiff, as subrogee to Williams, succeeded to no greater rights than those of its insured, and therefore could not bring what essentially is a tort claim on her behalf.

         The court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $100, 000, concluding, inter alia, that ‘‘[t]he law is well settled in this state that statutes of limitations do not strictly apply to equitable claims. . . . Although courts in equitable proceedings often look by analogy to the statute of limitations to determine whether, in the interests of justice, a particular action should be heard, they are by no means obliged to adhere to those limitations. . . . The accident that gave rise to the plaintiff's claims occurred on September 30, 2012; Williams received extensive and continuing medical treatment well into 2015; the plaintiff paid her uninsured motorist claim in November of 2015 and brought suit against the defendants in February of 2016. As a matter of law, the court disagrees with the defendants' argument that the plaintiff's claim is barred by [§ 52-577 or § 52-584].'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) This appeal followed.

         We begin our analysis with the relevant legal principles. The determination of which, if any, statute of limitations applies to a given action is a question of law over which our review is plenary. See Vaccaro v. Shell Beach Condominium, Inc., 169 Conn.App. 21, 29, 148 A.3d 1123 (2016), cert. denied, 324 Conn. 917, 154 A.3d 1008 (2017).

         The doctrine of equitable subrogation is a creature of common law. Pacific Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Champion Steel, LLC, 323 Conn. 254, 262, 146 A.3d 975 (2016). Its purpose is well established: ‘‘[T]he object of [equitable] subrogation is the prevention of injustice. It is designed to promote and to accomplish justice, and is the mode which equity adopts to compel the ultimate payment of a debt by one who, in justice, equity, and good conscience, should pay it.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Westchester Fire Ins. Co. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 236 Conn. 362, 371, 672 A.2d 939 (1996), superseded in part by statute as stated in Pacific Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Champion Steel, LLC, supra, 268.[5] ‘‘[T]he doctrine of equitable subrogation is broad enough to include every instance in which one person, not acting as a mere volunteer or intruder, pays a debt for which another is primarily liable, and which in equity and good conscience should have been discharged by the latter.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Pacific Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Champion Steel, LLC, supra, 262. Consequently, equitable subrogation prevents a tortfeasor from being ‘‘unjustly enriched by virtue of having its debt paid by the insurance company of a party who had the foresight to obtain insurance ...

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