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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Amnesia Helps Save Speeding Police Office From Fault for Fatal Intersection Accident

Connecticut Personal Injury Lawyer - Hartford, New Britain, Waterbury
Officer Does Not
Remember Fatal Crash

Winn v. Posades, 913 A.2d 407, 281 Conn. 50 (2007)

When Officer David Posades arrived for his midnight shift at the Plainville Police Department on September 4, 1997, he realized he had left the keys to his handcuffs at home.  That same Thursday, Glenn Winn was having an evening out and at some point that night drank some alcohol and smoked some marijuana.

            Route 177 crosses Plainville from north to south.  Route 372 crosses the town from east to west.  At the intersection where they meet, the speed limit for Route 372 is 25 mph and the speed limit for Route 177 is 35 mph.  The area is a mix of small businesses and residential homes.

            Officer Posades must have been in quite a hurry to get his keys.  He was driving his cruiser between 58 and 75 mph westbound on Route 372 as he approached the intersection.  If he was going 75 mph, his speed would have been triple the speed limit! His siren and emergency lights off were off as he sped toward the traffic light at the intersection.

            Mr. Winn, driving south on Route 177 was also above the speed limit, although by nowhere near as much as the officer.  Mr. Winn was going between 37 to 46 mph as he neared the intersection.

            At the light, the two cars collided.  The front of Officer Posades’s cruiser hit the side of Mr. Winn’s car, flipped it over and threw Mr. Winn from his car.  The accident put him in a coma.  He never regained consciousness and died 9 days after the accident.

            Mr. Winn’s mother hired a lawyer to sue Officer Posades and the Plainville Police Department for this fatal car accident.

No witnesses were found for the accident.  Officer Posades testified at trial that he did not remember the accident.  The last thing he remembered, he told the court, he was driving west on Route 372 toward the intersection with Route 177. 

The judge at the trial stated from the bench, “Personally, I find it reprehensible that a police officer on duty not responding to an emergency was traveling that fast.”  Then he threw the case out of court.

Mr. Winn’s mother appealed the case to the Connecticut Appellate Court and the Connecticut Supreme Court.  In agreeing that the trial judge was right to throw out the case, both these courts pointed to a 100-year-old Connecticut Supreme Court case, Wallace v. Waterhouse, 86 Conn. 546, 86 A. 10 (1913), in which a speeding car killed a dog.  While traveling at the “excessive” speed of 20 mph, Arthur G. Waterhouse ran over and killed Mr. John T. Wallace’s dog which had crossed into the street.

Maybe it was Mr. Waterhouse’s excessive speed that caused the accident, the Supreme Court justices said.  Or maybe, the justices said, the accident happened because of the “commonly known” “habits and characteristics of dogs” to go wandering into the street.  Without any other evidence presented by the dog’s owner, a jury could only guess what had happened; because cases are to be decided on facts, not guesses, Mr. John Wallace’s lawsuit to get compensated for the death of his dog was thrown out of court.

            The Connecticut Supreme Court applied the same reasoning to the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mr. Winn’s mother against the Plainville police and Officer Posades.  The court stated:

In a case involving an automobile accident, a plaintiff cannot merely prove that a collision occurred and then call upon the defendant operator to come forward with evidence that the collision was not a proximate consequence of negligence on his part. Nor is it sufficient for a plaintiff to prove that a defendant operator might have been negligent in a manner which would, or might have been, a proximate cause of the collision. A plaintiff must remove the issues of negligence and proximate cause from the field of conjecture and speculation.

In short, although the “evidence showed that Posades had been negligent or reckless in operating his police cruiser through the intersection at a highly excessive rate of speed,” no one could say for certain whether his speed caused the accident, or whether the accident happened because the traffic light malfunctioned, or whether it was Mr. Winn who passed through the red light.

 Referring to the Wallace v. Waterhouse case, and to other car accident cases, the Connecticut Supreme Court justices said, “Our conclusion today is simply that we decline to vary from our previous case law that consistently has concluded that proof of excessive speed by the operator of a motor vehicle is insufficient, standing alone, to establish legal cause.”