Municipal Liability For Defective Roads: The Plaintiff's Road To Recovery
There are four fundamental factors to keep in mind when trying to recover damages from a Connecticut municipality the result of a defective road or bridge that the municipality is bound to keep in repair. First, “defective roads” includes sidewalks, and stop lights. Second, you are required to make timely, written notice to the municipality. Third, you must bring suit within two years from the date of the injury. Fourth, the civil complaint filed in court must be particularly plead.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A “ROAD”
“General Statutes Section 13a-149 provides in part: ‘Any person injured in person or property by means of a defective road or bridge may recover damages from the party bound to keep it in repair…’ The statute includes injuries caused by defective public sidewalks over which a municipality has assumed control. Angelillo v. Meriden, 136 Conn. 553, 556, 72 A.2d 654 (1950).” Rodriguez v. City of New Haven, 183 Conn. 473, n. 1 (1981). A malfunctioning traffic light is also considered to be a defect in the highway. See 29 Conn.Suppl. 108.
WHAT CONSTITUTES ADEQUATE “NOTICE”
You are required to serve on the municipality formal written notice of “such injury and a general description of the same, and of the cause thereof and of the time and place of its occurrence.” C.G.S.A. §13a-149. Written notice must “be given to a selectman or the clerk of such town, or to the clerk of such city or borough…” Id. And it must be given within ninety (90) days from the injury.
WHAT IS THE APPLICABLE “STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS”
TO FILE SUIT IN COURT
The suit must be filed in court within two years of the injury. See C.G.S.A. §13a-149.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A “PROPERLY PLEAD” COMPLAINT
“To establish liability, the plaintiff [has] the burden of proving (1) the existence of a defect which resulted from the failure of the defendant to use reasonable care to keep the [road] within its control in a reasonably safe condition for public travel; (2) notice, either actual or constructive, to the defendant of the defect; and (3) the exercise by him of due care.” Rodriguez v. City of New Haven, 183 Conn. 473, 476 (1981).
It is important to specifically plead the exercise of due care by the plaintiff. “To establish liability under the defective highway statute, § 13a-149, the plaintiff [has] the burden of proving that she exercised due care. Allegations of due care must be specifically pleaded in a defective highway claim brought against a municipality and cannot be presumed.” Mastrolillo v. Danbury, 61 Conn. App. 693, 699 (2001)(citations omitted). This is because the defect must have been the sole proximate cause of the injury, and the plaintiff must not have contributed to his own injury. The Connecticut courts use the doctrine of contributory negligence in defective road case, and not the more commonly applied modified comparative negligence doctrine used in most other tort claims. Prato v. New Haven, 246 Conn. 638, 642 (1998).
In terms of constructive notice “the plaintiff must establish that the defect existed a sufficient length of time and was of such a dangerous character that the government by the exercise of reasonable care could and should have discovered and remedied it. The test is not whether the defect would have been discovered had the particular portion of the street in question been examined, but would it have been discovered had the government exercised reasonable supervision over its streets as a whole. The government is considered to have notice of what such supervision would disclose (Triendi v. Waterbury, 128 Conn. 464 (1942); Mausch v. Hartford, 184 Conn. 467 (1981)). ” See Coppolo, George, Claims Against the State for Damages Caused by a Fallen Tree on A State Road, OLR Research Report, 2007-R-0390 (May 18, 2007).