Munn v. Hotchkiss Sch., SC 19525

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtROGERS, C. J.
Citation326 Conn. 540,165 A.3d 1167
Parties Orson D. MUNN III, et. al. v. The HOTCHKISS SCHOOL
Docket NumberSC 19525
Decision Date11 August 2017

326 Conn. 540
165 A.3d 1167

Orson D. MUNN III, et. al.
v.
The HOTCHKISS SCHOOL

SC 19525

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued March 27, 2017
Officially released August 11, 2017*


165 A.3d 1171

Antonio Ponvert III, with whom was Alinor C. Sterling, for the appellant (defendant).

Wesley W. Horton, with whom were Karen L. Dowd, Jeffrey R. Babbin and, on the brief, Kenneth J. Bartschi and Aaron S. Bayer, for the appellees (plaintiffs).

Renee W. Dwyer and Brian M. Paice filed a brief for American Camp Association, Inc., et al. as amici curiae.

Frank J. Silvestri, Jr., filed a brief for National Association of Independent Schools et al. as amici curiae.

Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald and Espinosa, Js.

ROGERS, C. J.

326 Conn. 543

The issues in this case, which comes to us on certification from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit pursuant to General Statutes § 51–199b(d),1 are: (1) Does Connecticut public

165 A.3d 1172

policy support imposing a duty on a school to warn about or protect against the risk of a serious insect-borne disease when it organizes a trip abroad? (2) If so, does a damages award of approximately $41.5 million, $31.5 million of which are noneconomic damages, warrant a remittitur? We answer the first question in the affirmative and the second question in the negative.

The following facts, which find support in the record certified by the Second Circuit, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the certified issues.2 The defendant, The Hotchkiss School, is a private boarding school located in Lakeville. At the time of the events underlying this appeal, the plaintiff, Cara L. Munn,3 was a student there. In June and July of 2007, the plaintiff, who recently had turned fifteen years old and completed her freshman year, joined other students and faculty of the school on an educational trip to China. In July, she contracted tick-borne encephalitis, a viral infectious disease that attacks the central nervous system, as a result of being bitten by an infected tick during a hike on Mount Panshan, which is located in a forested

326 Conn. 544

area approximately sixty miles from Tianjin, a city in northeastern China. As a result of contracting tick-borne encephalitis, the plaintiff suffered permanent brain damage that has impacted severely the course of her life.

In 2009, the plaintiff filed a diversity action in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleging that the defendant had been negligent by, inter alia, failing to warn students and their parents of the risk of exposure to insect-borne diseases and failing to ensure that the students took protective measures against insect bites prior to visiting Mount Panshan. The case was tried to a jury in March, 2013. The jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff's favor, and it awarded her $10.25 million in economic damages and $31.5 million in noneconomic damages. The award was then reduced pursuant to a stipulated collateral source reduction.

The defendant thereafter challenged the verdict, moving for judgment as a matter of law; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) ; or, alternatively, for a new trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. The District Court rejected each of the claims the defendant made in support of those motions, including that the plaintiff's infection with tick-borne encephalitis was unforeseeable, that public policy precluded the imposition of a legal duty on the defendant and that the noneconomic portion of the damages award was excessive as a matter of law. The defendant appealed from the District Court's judgment to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging its determinations on each of those claims. The Second Circuit agreed with the plaintiff that there was sufficient evidence presented at trial for the jury to find that her illness was foreseeable; Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 795 F.3d 324, 330 (2d Cir. 2015) ; but, finding insufficient guidance in existing Connecticut law, certified to this court the issues of whether Connecticut public policy supports

326 Conn. 545

the imposition of a duty on a school to warn about or to protect against the foreseeable risk of a serious insect-borne disease when organizing a trip abroad and, if so, whether the jury's damages award, particularly the noneconomic portion, warranted a remittitur. Id., at 337.

165 A.3d 1173

I

We first consider whether Connecticut public policy supports the imposition of a duty on a school to warn about or protect against the foreseeable risk of a serious insect-borne disease when it organizes a trip abroad. Because it is widely recognized that schools generally are obligated to exercise reasonable care to protect students in their charge from foreseeable dangers, and there is no compelling reason to create an exception for foreseeable serious insect-borne diseases, we conclude that the imposition of such a duty is not contrary to Connecticut public policy and, accordingly, answer the first certified question in the affirmative.

The following additional facts that the jury reasonably could have found in support of its verdict are relevant. In the spring of 2007, Jean Yu, the director of the defendant's Chinese language and culture program and the leader of the trip, and David Thompson, the director of the defendant's international programs, provided the students who would be traveling to China with information about the trip. A list of places that the students would be visiting included "Mount Pan"4 as part of a Tianjin city tour. A subsequently distributed itinerary again listed "Mount Pan" as part of a city tour. The itinerary did not describe "Mount Pan" or indicate that the students would be visiting a forested area during the trip, which otherwise took place in urban or suburban settings.

326 Conn. 546

The students and parents also received some written medical advice for the trip in an e-mail including a hyperlink to a United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website that erroneously directed users to the page addressing Central America, rather than the one addressing China. The same document, as well as a generic predeparture manual produced by Thompson's office, indicated that the defendant's infirmary could serve as a travel clinic, although the infirmary was not qualified to provide travel related medical advice. Finally, a packing list provided to the students going on the China trip included "[b]ug spray or lotion (or bug spray wipes)," but that item was listed only under the heading "Miscellaneous Items," along with other, seemingly optional things like "[t]ravel umbrella" and "[m]usical instrument." None of the foregoing documents provided any warning about insect-borne illnesses, although other health and medical issues, such as immunizations, prescriptions and sexually transmitted diseases, were discussed.

Prior to the trip, Thompson viewed the page on the CDC website directed at travelers to China. In its discussion of diseases found in the area, the page stated that "[tick borne] encephalitis occurs in forested regions in northeastern China and in South Korea. Protecting yourself against insect bites (see below) will help to prevent these diseases." A section that followed, captioned "Prevent Insect Bites," instructed travelers to use insect repellent containing the chemical compound DEET and to wear long sleeves and long pants when outdoors. At trial, Thompson admitted seeing this information at the time of the trip, and, although he initially contended to the contrary, he subsequently agreed that Tianjin is in northeastern China. Other travel information sources generally available at the time also reported that tick-borne encephalitis was present in

326 Conn. 547

northeastern China. See footnote 7 of this opinion. No one on behalf of the defendant, including Thompson, warned students or their parents about the presence of tick-borne encephalitis

165 A.3d 1174

in forested regions of northeastern China or the need to protect against it.5

The students visited Mount Panshan about two weeks into the trip as part of a weekend excursion outside of Tianjin's city center. Evidence submitted at trial demonstrated that Mount Panshan is a forested peak adjacent to other smaller foothills, surrounded by an exurban landscape.6 No one warned the students to wear clothing that would protect them against insect bites or to apply insect repellent before the trek up the mountain. The group ascended Mount Panshan together on a paved pathway, dressed in shorts and T-shirts or tank tops, but split up for the descent. Most students, teachers and chaperones rode a cable car down the mountain. The plaintiff and two or three other students, however,

326 Conn. 548

were permitted to walk down the mountain by...

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33 practice notes
  • Cenatiempo v. Bank of Am., N.A., SC 20150
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 26, 2019
    ...the defendant's responsibility should extend to such results." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 549–50, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017)."[I]n considering whether public policy suggests the imposition of a duty, we ... consider the following four f......
  • Bloomfield Health Care Ctr. of Conn., LLC v. Doyon, AC 40281
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 9, 2018
    ...consequences or particular plaintiff in the case ." (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 548, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017). "[T]he determination of whether a duty exists ... is a question of law." (Internal quotation marks omit......
  • Borelli v. Renaldi, SC 20232
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 24, 2020
    ...an innocent bystander").Given its use of a multifactor duty analysis akin to Connecticut law; see, e.g., Munn v. Hotchkiss School, 326 Conn. 540, 548–50, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017) ; I find particularly instructive the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Sellers v. Abington , 630 Pa. 33......
  • Williams v. Hous. Auth. of Bridgeport, SC 19570
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 26, 2017
    ...constitute negligence , as long as the burden of prevention is not substantial in relation to that risk. See Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 568, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017) ("Although ... tick-borne encephalitis is not a widespread illness, when it strikes, the results can be devas......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • Bloomfield Health Care Ctr. of Conn., LLC v. Doyon, AC 40281
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 9, 2018
    ...consequences or particular plaintiff in the case ." (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 548, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017). "[T]he determination of whether a duty exists ... is a question of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Lodge v. ......
  • Wood v. Rutherford, AC 40142
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • January 8, 2019
    ...(Internal quotation marks omitted.) Duffy v. Flagg , supra, 279 Conn. at 692–93, 905 A.2d 15 ; see also Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 605, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017) (Espinosa , J. , concurring) ("a physician need not disclose to patients every remote risk potentially associated with ......
  • Ashmore v. Hartford Hosp., SC 20052
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 4, 2019
    ...of a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion for remittitur. The plaintiff, relying on cases such as Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 574, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017), and Patino v. Birken Mfg. Co. , 304 Conn. 679, 706, 41 A.3d 1013 (2012), contends that binding precedent 331 Con......
  • Williams v. Hous. Auth. of Bridgeport, SC 19570
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 26, 2017
    ...constitute negligence , as long as the burden of prevention is not substantial in relation to that risk. See Munn v. Hotchkiss School , 326 Conn. 540, 568, 165 A.3d 1167 (2017) ("Although ... tick-borne encephalitis is not a widespread illness, when it strikes, the results can be devastatin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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