Brown v. Robishaw

Decision Date05 June 2007
Docket NumberNo. 17644.,17644.
Citation922 A.2d 1086,282 Conn. 628
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesKevin BROWN v. Doris ROBISHAW et al.

Carrie J. Legus, with whom was David S. Williams, Norwich, for the appellant (defendant Joseph Walukiewicz).

John Nazzaro, with whom were Shannon Clark Kief, and, on the brief, Anne C. Dranginis and Jacqueline A. Wilson, Hartford, for the appellee (plaintiff).

NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER, VERTEFEUILLE and ZARELLA, Js.

NORCOTT, J.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether, in a personal injury action arising from an altercation that was pleaded solely in negligence, the trial court improperly denied a request to instruct the jury on the special defense of self-defense. The defendant Joseph Walukiewicz1 appeals2 from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a jury trial, awarding the plaintiff, Kevin Brown, damages in the amount of $312,389.15. Because the trial court should have granted the defendant's request to charge on self-defense, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial.

The record reveals the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. On April 15, 2002, the plaintiff visited the home of Doris Robishaw, his estranged wife, to ask her about the date of the final hearing in their pending divorce proceedings. Robishaw was asleep when the plaintiff arrived at her house. The defendant, who was Robishaw's boyfriend at that time, also was at her home with his adolescent son, and the defendant answered the door when the plaintiff arrived. The conversation between the two men became heated, and the defendant pushed or threw the plaintiff down the front stairs of the house.3 As a result of this fall, the plaintiff suffered a serious fracture of his left ankle that has required several surgeries and has resulted in permanent deformity and impairment.

Thereafter, the plaintiff brought this action against the defendant,4 alleging only that the defendant negligently had caused the plaintiff's injuries. In his answer, the defendant pleaded special defenses of comparative negligence and self-defense.5 On the basis of the pleadings and the evidence that he had introduced during the two day trial, the defendant filed a written request to charge on self-defense. The trial court denied the defendant's request to charge the jury on self-defense, but charged the jury on negligence, comparative negligence, and noneconomic and economic damages.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him damages in the amount of $448,935.94, but also finding him 5 percent contributorily negligent. The defendant filed a motion to set aside the verdict, or for remittitur, and for reduction of the verdict because of collateral source payments. The trial court denied the defendant's motion to set aside the verdict, but ordered a remittitur of $78,000,6 and reduced the verdict by $40,000 based on collateral source offsets, which resulted in a judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $312,389.15. This appeal followed.

On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly refused to charge the jury on self-defense because he had established a sufficient evidentiary basis for that request.7 In response, the plaintiff contends that the evidence did not support a charge on self-defense. The plaintiff also argues that, regardless of whether the evidence would have supported that charge, there is no legal basis for a self-defense charge in a negligence case. We agree with the defendant that the trial court improperly failed to instruct the jury on self-defense.

"In determining whether the trial court improperly refused a request to charge, [w]e . . . review the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to supporting the . . . proposed charge. . . . A request to charge which is relevant to the issues of [a] case and which is an accurate statement of the law must be given. . . . If, however, the evidence would not reasonably support a finding of the particular issue, the trial court has a duty not to submit it to the jury . . . . Thus, a trial court should instruct the jury in accordance with a party's request to charge [only] if the proposed instructions are reasonably supported by the evidence." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Matthiessen v. Vanech, 266 Conn. 822, 828-29, 836 A.2d 394 (2003). "If . . . the evidence reasonably does not support a finding on the particular issue, the trial court is duty bound to refrain from submitting it to the jury." Id., at 834, 836 A.2d 394; see also Goodmaster v. Houser, 225 Conn. 637, 648, 625 A.2d 1366 (1993) ("The court has a duty to submit to the jury no issue upon which the evidence would not reasonably support a finding. . . . The court should, however, submit to the jury all issues as outlined by the pleadings and as reasonably supported by the evidence." [Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.]).

Whether the evidence presented by the defendant could support a finding that he acted in self-defense is a question of law over which our review is plenary. See, e.g., Lin v. National R. Passenger Corp., 277 Conn. 1, 6, 889 A.2d 798 (2006). Similarly, whether there is a legal basis for a self-defense charge in a negligence action also presents a question of law over which our review is plenary. See State v. Brunette, 92 Conn.App. 440, 449 n. 12, 886 A.2d 427 (2005), cert. denied, 277 Conn. 902, 891 A.2d 2 (2006).

The record reveals the following additional facts and procedural history. The defendant pleaded the special defense of self-defense in his answer, and requested that the trial court charge the jury accordingly.8 After denying this request, the trial court delivered the following charge to the jury: "The plaintiff alleges that the plaintiff's injuries and losses were caused by the carelessness and negligence of the defendant . . . in one or more of two ways. First, in that he physically handled the plaintiff in a manner which caused the plaintiff personal harm; and second, in that he pushed or moved the plaintiff causing the plaintiff to fall.

"If you find with reference to either of these allegations contained in the complaint that the defendant did something which a reasonably prudent person would not have done . . . under the same or similar circumstances or conditions, then the defendant's acts or failure to act would be negligence.

"However, if you find that the defendant did anything which a reasonably prudent person would have done and didn't do anything which a reasonably prudent person would not have done under the same or similar circumstances, then the defendant would not be negligent."

With regard to the defendant's special defenses, the trial court charged the jury on comparative negligence, which operates to reduce a defendant's comparative liability, unlike self-defense, which has the potential to negate completely a defendant's liability.9 See Giles v New Haven, 228 Conn. 441, 454, 636 A.2d 1335 (1994) ("in a jurisdiction that utilizes the doctrine of comparative negligence, such as Connecticut, the emerging rule is that any negligence by the plaintiff should not bar liability but should merely reduce damages" [internal quotation marks omitted]).

Because a request to charge must be "an accurate statement of the law"; (internal quotation marks omitted) Matthiessen v. Vanech, supra, 266 Conn. at 828, 836 A.2d 394; we turn first to the plaintiff's responsive argument that there is no basis in the law for a self-defense charge in a negligence action.10 The defendant claims, however, that there are established legal principles that support a jury charge on self-defense in a negligence action. According to the defendant, courts faced with similar situations have taken three approaches in examining the link between self-defense and negligence, concluding that: (1) the intentional act of self-defense negates completely any claim of negligence; (2) negligence standards play a role in the analysis of self-defense; or (3) self-defense vitiates the duty element of negligence.

We begin our analysis by noting that it is well established that the defense of self-defense is available to a defendant faced with the intentional torts of civil assault and battery, provided that there is sufficient evidence in support of that defense. See, e.g., Manning v. Michael, 188 Conn. 607, 610, 452 A.2d 1157 (1982); Hanauer v. Coscia, 157 Conn. 49, 51, 244 A.2d 611 (1968); Laffin v. Apalucci, 130 Conn. 153, 154, 32 A.2d 648 (1943). Moreover, although the specific issue of whether the special defense of self-defense is available in an action wherein the plaintiff pleads only negligence is a question of first impression for this court,11 the courts of Illinois and Louisiana have considered the relationship between this defense and a plaintiff's negligence claim. See, e.g., Wegman v. Pratt, 219 Ill.App.3d 883, 894-95, 162 Ill.Dec. 221, 579 N.E.2d 1035 (1991) (although defendant admitted striking plaintiff intentionally, trial court improperly dismissed plaintiff's negligence claim in assault and battery action because self-defense can be pleaded in negligence action); Blackburn v. Johnson, 187 Ill. App.3d 557, 562, 135 Ill.Dec. 200, 543 N.E.2d 583 (1989) (court acknowledged that it was "possibly treading on new ground," but allowed self-defense charge in negligence case wherein father had stabbed son after son attacked mother), cert. denied, 128 Ill.2d 661, 139 Ill.Dec. 510, 548 N.E.2d 1066 (1989); Brasseaux v. Girouard, 269 So.2d 590, 599 (La.App. 1972) (self-defense instruction proper in tort action, but defendant liable for shooting plaintiff because defendant "could not reasonably have believed that he was threatened with bodily harm, and that even if he did entertain such a belief he used a far greater force than appeared to be reasonably necessary to protect himself") cert....

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  • Fajardo v. Boston Scientific Corporation
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 16, 2021
    ...is duty bound to refrain from submitting it to the jury." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Brown v. Robishaw , 282 Conn. 628, 633, 922 A.2d 1086 (2007). Whether the evidence presented by a party reasonably supports a particular request to charge "is a question of law ov......
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    ...negligence action against Walukiewicz (negligence action) to recover damages associated with those injuries. See Brown v. Robishaw, 282 Conn. 628, 630-31, 922 A.2d 1086 (2007). The plaintiff then brought the present action seeking declaratory relief, namely, a determination that it was not ......
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    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 11, 2007
    ...[only] if the proposed instructions are reasonably supported by the evidence." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Brown v. Robishaw, 282 Conn. 628, 633, 922 A.2d 1086 (2007). Although we have often considered the question of whether third party culpability evidence was properly excluded by......
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    • Connecticut Supreme Court
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