A Presentation of the SERRANO LAW FIRM, LLC
Hartford – Waterbury 860 236-9350 ■ 203 756-6100 ■ 800 856-6400
Representing the Seriously Injured

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Town Dispatcher Not Responsible for Personal Injuries from High Speed Car Chase Accident

Connecticut Personal Injury Accident Attorney, Hartford - Waterbury
Edgerton v. Clinton, SC 19095  (March 18, 2014)

One summer night in 2005, Matthew Vincent, a volunteer firefighter, was driving on Route 81 (Killingsworth Road) in Clinton, Connecticut, across from the commuter parking lot entrance when a car driven by Mr. William Cardillo hit him while turning left onto Glenwood Road.  Vincent stopped.  Cardillo kept going.  Vincent chased him, turning on his vehicle’s blue courtesy lights and calling the Clinton 911 dispatcher on his cell phone.  They turned right onto Liberty Street, left onto Ferry Dell Road, left onto Brickyard Road, left onto Kelseytown Road, and right onto Ironworks Road, all dark, winding residential roads, Mr. Vincent all the while calmly telling the dispatcher their route.  Fifty seconds after turning onto Ironworks Road, Mr. Cardillo lost control and hit a tree.  His car flipped over and caught fire.  In the crash, his passenger, Walker Hopkins, suffered a severe brain injury.

            Mr. Hopkins’s conservator hired a personal injury law firm to sue for the accident.  The lawyers sued everyone who might be found responsible for the accident: the drivers of both cars, the Clinton fire department (because Mr. Vincent was  a volunteer fireman who had used his lights during the chase), the Clinton dispatcher for not telling Mr. Vincent to end the chase, and the town of Clinton because the dispatcher was its employee.

            The conservator’s lawyers hired an expert who testified that the 911 dispatcher, Ms. Ellen Vece, should have immediately told Mr. Vincent to stop chasing Mr. Cardillo.  The town’s lawyers hired a different expert who testified that Ms. Vece did nothing wrong in not telling Mr. Vincent to stop because because she had no way of knowing that he was speeding.

            At the personal injury trial in January 2011, a Waterbury jury found that Mr. Vincent and Mr. Cardillo were each 5% responsible for the accident and that Ms. Vece was 90% responsible.  The jury awarded the conservator $12.7 million to provide for Mr. Hopkins’s care.

            The Town of Clinton appealed the jury’s verdict.  Three years later, in a 4 to 1 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the judgment against the town, thus taking away 90% of the award.

            To get the verdict against the Town under Connecticut personal injury law, the conservator’s lawyers had to convince the jury of the following things:

  • The dispatcher’s failure to tell Mr. Vincent to stop the car chase created an immediate risk that someone would suffer a personal injury.
  • As an occupant of the car being chased, Mr. Hopkins likely could be identified as a person that was at risk of being injured.
  • The dispatcher knew or should have known that by not telling Mr. Vincent to stop the car chase that there was an immediate risk that someone would likely suffer a personal injury.
  • The dispatcher’s failure to tell Mr. Vincent to stop the car chase a substantial reason that caused this serious car accident.

            The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the jury verdict against the town because the justices felt that they dispatcher had no way of knowing that there was a risk that someone would be injured because Mr. Vincent was calm and rational on the phone while speaking to her, because there were no background noises such as screeching tires or rushing wind during the call that would make the dispatcher realize that the cars were speeding, and because the dispatcher did not know that Mr. Vincent was using his blue courtesy lights.
The expert witness called by the conservator’s lawyers testified that a properly trained dispatcher should have immediately told Mr. Vincent not to follow the other car because the average layperson does not have the expertise or training to pursue another car and the mere fact that a car chase was occurring was likely to create an immediate risk that someone would be injured in a car accident.  The jury agreed with the expert.  In reversing the jury verdict, however Connecticut Supreme Court focused on the fact that the dispatcher had no way of knowing that the cars were dangerously speeding.