Connecticut College Student Killed in Hit and Run Accident

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A 19 year-old student at Western Connecticut State University died after a hit-and-run accident on Tuesday, November 22, 2011. Dong Lin, a commuter student at the university who resided in Brookfield, was struck by a car around 5:30 p.m. while crossing White Street in Danbury. Police responded to a call at about 5:35 p.m. Lin was later pronounced dead at Danbury Hospital. Police have not announced any suspects or arrests in the case. Both Danbury and university police are reportedly investigating the accident, and have asked any witnesses to come forward. The only available witness description was of a “dark-colored, boxy car.” The university is also making additional counseling resources available to its community in the wake of the accident.

Hit-and-run accidents have consequences far beyond the people directly injured or killed. When a person flees the scene of an accident, especially one with a fatality, that person creates further difficulties for both the victims and the authorities. The case could eventually have both criminal and civil components.

The driver, if apprehended, will likely face a charge of “misconduct with a motor vehicle” or “negligent homicide with a motor vehicle,” as defined by Connecticut law. The misconduct charge involves “criminal negligence” in operating a motor vehicle that causes another person’s death. It is a class D felony with a penalty of one to five years imprisonment. The negligent homicide offense, considered a lesser included offense of the misconduct charge, involves merely negligent operation of a motor vehicle that causes a person’s death. It carries a penalty of up to six months’ imprisonment. Considering that the driver apparently fled the scene of the accident in this case, a misconduct charge, if not an outright charge of manslaughter, seems likely.

The driver also faces potential civil liability for wrongful death. This is a civil claim brought by the heirs of someone who died as a result of another person’s illegal or negligent conduct. Unlike a criminal case, which is brought by the state and seeks to punish the defendant, a wrongful death claim seeks financial compensation for the loss of the decedent’s support and companionship.

Fatal Crash at Connecticut Tailgate Party Leaves Liability Questions Unanswered

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An equipment malfunction may have caused a U-Haul truck to crash into a tailgate party outside the Yale University football stadium, killing one person and injuring two more, according to the truck’s driver. Police are still investigating the crash and its possible causes. For a personal injury lawyer, the case presents the critical question of who could be held liable for the crash, and in this case it is not yet clear.

The crash occurred Saturday, November 19, 2011. The truck, driven by a Yale junior, was on its way to a fraternity tailgate party outside the football stadium when it suddenly swerved and sped up, veering into a crowd and hitting three women attending another tailgate party. A 30 year-old woman from Salem, Massachusetts was killed. Another victim was taken to a nearby hospital in serious but stable condition. A third victim received treatment for minor injuries.

New Haven police took the driver of the U-Haul to police headquarters and administered a standard field sobriety test. The driver reportedly passed the test, and he was released from police custody. No charges have been filed against him. Two passengers were also reportedly in the truck at the time of the crash, but neither was detained by police.

Police impounded the truck, a Ford F-350 with a V-10 Triton engine, in order to preserve it for inspection. The Yale Daily News interviewed several individuals with knowledge of this model of truck regarding the claim of some sort of vehicle malfunction. Some F-350 models apparently have closely-spaced gas and brake pedals, for example, leaving the possibility that a driver could accidentally push both pedals, or even just the gas pedal, when intending to brake. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has apparently received several complaints regarding this truck model.

Although it is too early to say what claims may arise from this tragic event, a wrongful death claim on behalf of the woman killed in the crash seems likely. This requires proof that someone’s negligence directly caused her death. Three possible defendants present themselves, depending on how the investigation turns out: the driver of the truck, the truck rental company, or the truck’s manufacturer. No evidence yet available supports a specific negligence claim against any of the actual people or businesses involved in this case, so of course this analysis is purely hypothetical.

Alleged Drunk Driver Hits Connecticut Police Officer

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A police officer in West Haven was injured shortly after midnight on Saturday, November 13 by an alleged drunk driver, reports the New Haven Register. The officer was on patrol when a car turning onto Boston Post Road struck his vehicle at about 2:15 a.m. The officer was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. He was treated and released. His name has not been released to the media.

The Register notes that several officers in the West Haven Police Department have suffered injuries in automobile accidents in recent months. Last week, an officer was struck by a CT Transit Bus as he was exiting his vehicle and had to be hospitalized. In September, a car hit an off-duty officer on his motorcycle, breaking his leg. A sergeant was injured in July when someone deliberately rammed his cruiser. The West Haven police chief commented that the department is having staffing difficulties due to recent injuries.

In the Saturday incident, the 27 year-old driver who hit the police officer’s vehicle allegedly had, at the time of the crash, a blood-alcohol content three times the legal limit. He also allegedly ran a blinking red light, the equivalent of a stop sign. The driver has been charged with driving under the influence and several other offenses, including failure to grant the right of way at an intersection. The driver could face up to six months in jail if this is his first driving under the influence offense.

From the perspective of a personal injury attorney, the question is whether the driver can be held liable for the officer’s injuries. If the driver acted negligently, then he can be liable for damages, which may include the officer’s medical expenses related to his injuries, lost wages for time missed from work, costs of rehabilitation from his injuries, future lost wages because of rehabilitation or diminished work capacity, and compensation for “pain and suffering” resulting from the injuries. In this particular case, the officer was released from the hospital the same day, so the amount of damages may be small, but some injuries in automobile accidents do not manifest right away.

Connecticut Worker Dies in Construction Accident

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A construction worker died from injuries sustained in a fall at a Stamford work site on October 25, 2011. The man was reportedly installing a roof at the new Chelsea Piers sports complex. In gusty wind conditions, and without wearing a safety harness, he fell 50 feet to his death around 1:00 p.m. Two of the man’s brothers were present at the worksite when he fell. Emergency responders said that he was unresponsive when they arrived at the scene.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has shut down the site pending an investigation into the accident. The roofing project at Chelsea Piers is being overseen by contracting firm American Building Group. The Stamford Advocate notes that American Building Group has a history of OSHA investigations over the past several years, including violations related to scaffolding in 1999 and 2005. An August 1999 inspection led OSHA to cite the company for problems with scaffolding, electrical systems, and a shortage of personal protective equipment. It fined the company $5,400 for six violations. In 2005, OSHA fined the company $7,050 for scaffolding and heavy equipment problems. The most serious violation came in 2006, when OSHA found that the company had not adequately protected workers at an excavation site and fined the company $20,000.

Since the investigation by OSHA is still underway, it is premature to do any more than speculate on how liability may ultimately be apportioned in this case. Key questions involve the employment relationship between the worker and the general contractor, the involvement of other subcontractors in any conditions leading to the accident, and negligence on the part of the worker that might offset a contractor’s liability. The answers to most of these questions are not known, either because investigations are underway or information is not available from the media. Still, they are worth exploring.

Connecticut DOT Worker Obtains Injury Verdict

Department of Transportation worker who lost part of her leg in the back of a dump truck while getting it ready for winter snow operations received a 3.6 million dollar verdict in Waterbury Superior Court on November 1, 2011. Her boot was entrained in the moving conveyor chain during a maintenance operation. The defense was primarily that she disregarded a “Danger” decal affixed to the side of the truck advising her not to stand in the body of the dump because of the moving chain which could cause injury. While that was true, the decal had been serially disregarded as the back of the dump bed was often used to store tools and for various other purposes and ther was a ladder affixed to the side of the dump body placed there by the Manufacturer and Dealer to enable access. The dealer who sold and assembled the dump body knew that and in fact their own mechanics would inspect the chain’s operation on occasion from inside the dump body as well while the chain was in motion. The State of Connecticut’s contract with the DOT required mandatory training on the proper operation and maintenance of the dump body which implicitly included how to clean and maintain the unit in a safe and recommended manner.It also required compliance with OSHA regulations and Industry safety standards. The Dealer maintained that it did so comply and that physical guarding of the chain during operation was implausible as any such guard would necessarily tend to interfere with its intended purpose. Accordingly, administrative controls which included proper training and clear operating instructions were essential and the Dealer maintained that it provided proper training and that the DOT which had operated a fleet of hundreds of similar trucks before the instant purchase should have known how to train their own employees in the first place. After the incident, Conn OSHA did cite the DOT which employed the injured worker for allowing exposure to unguarded nip points and in consequence thereof the DOT implemented a series of heightened administrative controls.

The case was brought under Connecticut’s Product Liability Act and was plead under legal theories including Strict liability for Defective design, Breach of the Statutory Duty to provide warnings and instructions, Breach of warranty and negligence. The manufacturer of the Dump bed had settled with the Plaintiff weeks before Trial and was a settled and released party whose fault was considered by the jury for purposes of allocating fault between the Plaintiff, the manufacturer and the remaining Defendant which was the dealer who sold the dump beds to the State under a procurement contract. The Jury allocated slightly less fault to the Manufacturer than to the Dealer who had the contract and primary relationship with the DOT and assigned 38% fault to the injured DOT worker as well resulting in a net verdict of slightly more than 1.3 million dollars to the worker in addition to a confidential sum obtained from the manufacturer shortly before Trial.