Connecticut Supreme Court Recognizes New Cause of Action for Children of Injured Parents
On Monday, September 28, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, reversed a prior decision generated in 1998, and found in favor of the plaintiffs, recognizing for the first time a child’s right to damages when a parent is injured or killed as a result of the negligence of another individual. In the decision, entitled, Campos v. Coleman, the Court held that the time had come for Connecticut courts to recognize the serious harm that is often inflicted upon children when a parent or guardian is seriously injured or killed, and unable to provide the support, guidance and affection so necessary to a healthy childhood. Prior to this decision, only adult spouses could seek damages when their spouse was injured or killed. Children were not permitted to make any recovery whatsoever.
The case arose from a fatal bicycle accident which took place in West Haven, Connecticut on September 15, 2008. The cyclist, Mr. Jose Campos, was killed while crossing an intersection after he was struck by a hospitality van being operated by the defendant, Robert Coleman, who was acting within the scope of his employment for LaQuinta Inns & Suites. After being hospitalized for three days at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Mr. Campos died as a result of severe head injuries, leaving behind his wife and six children.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mr. Campos’s estate and on behalf of his wife. While claims were also filed on behalf of his children, those claims were stricken by the trial court on the basis that Connecticut did not recognize claims for children in such a scenario. The case was tried before a New Haven jury by Attorney John “Jack” Mills, of Mills Law Firm, LLC in November, 2012, resulting in a verdict of $3.4 million dollars. After the trial, Mills initiated an appeal on behalf of the Campos children, arguing that their loss was never considered by the jury. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, and the case was deemed worthy for a rare public oral argument, which took place at Fairfield High School in November, 2014, with all seven Supreme Court Justices sitting to hear the case (sitting En Banc).
The appeal was defended by a national law firm based in Boston, which argued that any decision to change the law should be left to the legislature and not enacted by the courts. The students who attended the packed auditorium came from three different high schools and were permitted to ask questions of the attorneys at the conclusion of oral arguments.
After almost one year, the Court issued its ruling on Monday, September 28, 2015, finding in favor of the Campos children, thereby reversion its prior ruling in 1998, which held against expanding the law to include claims for children. The Court reasoned that the data plainly indicated that children, especially young children, often suffer serious harm when a parent is disabled or killed and had a right to be recognized by the court system. As a result of this ruling, which went into effect immediately, children throughout Connecticut now have the right to seek compensation for these harms.
After receiving notice of the decision, the plaintiffs’ attorney, John “Jack” Mills of Mills Law Firm, LLC in New Haven, said: “Today is a great day for children all across Connecticut. While we are ecstatic that this decision creates the opportunity for immediate relief for our clients, we are equally thrilled that this ruling will change the lives of children throughout this state for years and years to come, bringing justice to children who have lost a parent to death or serious injury. It was long overdue, and we are honored to be a part of this historic change.”