DiPalma v. Wiesen

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation303 A.2d 709,163 Conn. 293
Decision Date26 June 1972
PartiesAnthony F. DiPALMA et al. v. Harold WIESEN et al.

Gregory P. Patti, Fairfield, with whom, on brief, was Paul V. McNamara, Bridgeport, for appellants (defendants).

Arthur Levy, Jr., bridgeport, with whom, on brief, was Irwin E. Friedman, Bridgeport, for appellee (plaintiff Lillian Banks).


LOISELLE, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff Lillian Banks, along with two other plaintiffs, brought this action to recover for injuries and damages which she had suffered while a passenger in a vehicle driven by a companion plaintiff. She alleged that the collision, on February 3, 1967, between the vehicle in which she was a passenger and the vehicle operated by the defendant Eve C. Wiesen was caused by the latter's negligence. During the course of the trial, the defendants admitted liability but contested the extent of damages. A jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs and the defendants appealed from the judgment for the plaintiff Lillian Banks, hereinafter called the plaintiff.

The defendants' first assignment of error which is pursued in their brief relates to the instructions of the court. The defendants requested that the court's charge to the jury include the following: 'In assessing damages, a jury is not concerned with possibilities but with reasonable probabilities. In this case, there has been some testimony that permanency doesn't mean that the injury is permanent according to one of the plaintiffs' experts. Therefore, I direct you that there is not an adequate basis to determine that the plaintiff sustained a permanent injury of a lasting nature as a result of this accident.' The court refused the request and left the matter of the permanency of injury to the jury.

With respect to the certainty with which an injury must be established before compensation may be awarded for it, an examination of the charge indicates that the court gave sufficient and proper instructions. The charge contains many references to the matter and includes the following: '(Y)ou must be satisfied with a reasonable degree of certainty that the results for which you are attempting to compensate are reasonably probable.' See Acampora v. Ledewitz, 159 Conn. 377, 383, 269 A.2d 288.

The correctness of the court's refusal to instruct the jury as requested is determined by the claims of proof of the parties. Practice Book § 635; Busko v. DeFilippo, 162 Conn. 462, 294 A.2d 510. The unattacked offers of proof of the plaintiff disclose that an orthopedic surgeon, testifying on behalf of the plaintiff, stated that there was a reasonable, medical probability that the plaintiff will require medical treatment for the rest of her life; that there was a reasonable, medical probability that the injuries which he described at the trial were caused by the accident; and that he estimated that the plaintiff had sustained a 40 to 45 percent disability of her total body as a result of the accident. Although these offers of proof are unattacked by any assignment of error, the defendants' claims of proof put the question of permanency of injury in dispute. The appendix to the plaintiff's brief demonstrates that the doctor's testimony concerning permanency was qualified only by his statement that no one could guarantee a prognosis. The request to charge assumed disputed facts and would have invaded the province of the jury had it been granted. See State v. Vennard, 159 Conn. 385, 399, 270 A.2d 837; DeCarufel v. Colonial Trust Co., 143 Conn. 18, 20, 118 A.2d 798. The court was not in error in refusing to charge as requested.

The remaining assignment of error which is briefed by the defendants concerns the refusal of the court to order a capias after one of the plaintiff's doctors, having been served with a subpoena duces tecum on behalf of the defendants, did not appear. All that pertains to this assignment of error in the finding is included in the record in a rather long colloquy between the court and both counsel. From this colloquy the following may be inferred: Dr. Frank A. Serena, an orthopedic surgeon, testified at the trial for two days and, on completion of his testimony and cross-examination on a Friday, was excused by both counsel. On either the day he completed his testimony or the day after, the defendant served a subpoena duces tecum on Dr. Serena with an order to appear the following Tuesday and to bring his records pertaining to an accident which occurred on February 21, 1964, in which the plaintiff was involved. At the same time, the defendants served a subpoena on another doctor, Dr. John F. Paget, who had treated the plaintiff for an accident which occurred in 1958. On Tuesday morning, neither doctor appeared. Counsel for the defendants then requested that a capias be issued for Dr. Serena and the claimed error refers only to the denial of that request. At some time prior to Tuesday morning, Dr. Serena made it known that he would be engaged in previously scheduled surgery on that morning. From this colloquy it also appears that Dr. Serena stated in his cross-examination that he did not have his records pertaining to a 1964 accident, that he had a vague recollection of some permanent injury from that accident, and that he would not deny that he had assigned 30 to 35 percent disability to the plaintiff's cervical spine in connection with that accident. Counsel for the defendants indicated to the court that, in addition to the testimony relating to the permanency of injuries resulting from the 1964 accident, he wished to question Dr. Serena about the period during which he treated the plaintiff for the 1964 accident, the plaintiff's complaints at that time, 'and so on and so forth.'

On this representation, counsel for the plaintiff agreed to stipulate that Dr. Paget assigned 20 percent permanent partial disability to the plaintiff as a result of a 1958 accident. Counsel also agreed to stipulate that Dr. Serena might have given the plaintiff a 35 percent permanent disability to the cervical spine as a result of the 1964 accident and that Dr. Serena assigned a 5 to 10 percent disability to the lumbar spine and a 20 percent permanent disability to the cervical spine as a result of a 1966 accident.

It is the duty of every witness to appear when commanded to testify to aid the courts in the administration of justice. Blodgett v. Cosgrove, 117 Conn. 301, 306, 167 A. 925; 58 Am.Jur., Witnesses, § 9. It is a duty incident to citizenship which may not be ignored by one who believes that his time may be spent to better advantage, no matter how important he may think his time to be, even if he is one of a profession, whatever it may be. Thomaston v. Ives, 156 Conn. 166, 172, 239 A.2d 515; 97 C.J.S. Witnesses § 16b. The fact that a witness has previously testified is not a legal excuse, in and of itself, to fail to obey a subpoena. See Petrillo v. Kolbay, 116 Conn. 389, 393, 165 A. 346.

If one is not warranted in refusing to honor a subpoena and it is clear to the court that his absence will cause a miscarriage of justice, the court should issue a capias to compel attendance. General Statutes § 52-143 does not, however, make it mandatory for the court to issue a capias when a witness under subpoena fails to appear; issuance of a capias is in the discretion of the court. The court has the authority to decline to issue a capias when the circumstances do not justify or require it. See State v. McNamara, 128 Conn. 273, 279, 22 A.2d 10. Judicial discretion is always a legal discretion, exercised according to the recognized principles of equity. Thomas v. Thomas, 159 Conn. 477, 480, 271 A.2d 62. 'The action of the trial court is not to be disturbed unless it abused its legal discretion, and '(i)n determining this the unquestioned rule is that 'great weight is due to the action of the trial court and every reasonable presumption should be given in favor of its correctness.' Dudas v. Ward Baking Co., 104 Conn. 516, 518, 133 A. 591 . . ..' Ardoline v. Keegan, 140 Conn. 552, 555, 102 A.2d 352.' Camp v. Booth, 160 Conn. 10, 13, 273 A.2d 714, 716. In determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion, the ultimate issue is whether the court could reasonably conclude as it did. E. M. Loew's Enterprises, Inc. v. Surabian, 146 Conn. 608, 611, 153 A.2d 463.

In the case at bar, the doctor testified for two days; he was unequivocally excused by both parties; he was operating at the time for which he was subpoenaed to appear; his appearance was for the purpose of eliciting testimony about treatment for the 1964 accident, about which the doctor had already testified, and not for the purpose of introducing evidence on a new subject beyond the scope of the doctor's direct examination, nor was there a showing or claim by counsel that he was restricted in his cross-examination in any way which would necessitate making the doctor his own witness; the defendants' counsel, before excusing the doctor, did not request that the court instruct him to return the following Tuesday with his records; and the plaintiff agreed to and did stipulate as previously stated.

Although the court stated: 'I can't issue a capias for Dr. Serena,' from the long colloquy referred to above, it is clear that its decision was not based on a belief that it had no power to do so but, rather, that its refusal was an exercise of discretion taking into consideration the existing circumstances. This court reviews the action of the trial court only as to whether that action cannot be supported in reason. The court did not act...

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    ...169 Conn. 692, 702, 364 A.2d 186. '(T)he ultimate issue is whether the court could reasonably conclude as it did.' DiPalma v. Wiesen, 163 Conn. 293, 299, 303 A.2d 709, 712." Trial counsel objected to the materiality of the testimony as to the purchase and cost of the bed, not to its prejudi......
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