In Fain v. Benak, 205 Conn. App. 734 (2021) the Connecticut Appellate Court recently addressed the application of the “unavoidable accident doctrine” in situations where there is no evidence of a medical emergency.
In Fain, the plaintiff brought a negligence action arising from a motor vehicle collision. The parties tried the case to the court, and the court found that the plaintiff and the defendant were “heading in opposite directions” when the defendant “crossed into the plaintiff’s lane” and “struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.” The defendant testified that she heard a “popping sound” before the accident and “the vehicle she was operating pulled to the left.” In addition, the police officer who responded to the scene testified that the defendant’s “front left tire appeared to have blown out.” The court found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded both economic and noneconomic damages.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in declining to apply the “unavoidable accident” doctrine. The defendant argued that the doctrine applied to the facts of the case because “the blowout of the tire was not foreseeable and amount[ed] to an unavoidable accident.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument. Citing Shea v. Tousignant, 172 Conn. 54 (1976), the court explained that the doctrine only applies to a “sudden medical emergency” and refused to extend “the doctrine to a mechanical issue with the vehicle.”
Furthermore, the court concluded that the unavoidable accident doctrine did not apply because the trial court “clearly and unequivocally found” that the defendant was negligent. Based on Connecticut Supreme Court precedent, the court concluded that the doctrine applies “only when the record can support a finding that the negligence of neither party is involved.” Since the trial court found that the defendant negligently operated his motor vehicle by speeding and failing to use his brakes, the court concluded that the unavoidable accident doctrine was inapplicable.
In sum, Fain provides a detailed and edifying review of the application of the unavoidable accident doctrine. It also provides clear guidance concerning when defense counsel can properly invoke it.
For more information on this decision, or on this area of law generally, please contact firm partner Richard E. Fennelly, III in our Hartford, Connecticut office.