Paige v. St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., (SC 15866)

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBORDEN, J.
Citation250 Conn. 14,734 A.2d 85
PartiesTHELONIOUS PAIGE v. SAINT ANDREW'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH CORPORATION ET AL.
Decision Date03 August 1999
Docket Number(SC 15866)

250 Conn. 14
734 A.2d 85

THELONIOUS PAIGE
v.
SAINT ANDREW'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH CORPORATION ET AL

(SC 15866)

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued January 12, 1999.

Officially released August 3, 1999.


Callahan, C. J., and Borden, Berdon, Norcott, Palmer, McDonald and Peters, Js.

250 Conn. 15
John B. Farley, with whom were Mark R. Cramer and, on the brief, James V. Somers, for the appellant (named defendant)

Vincent M. Musto, with whom was Lillian C. Gustilo, for the appellee (plaintiff).

250 Conn. 16
Opinion

BORDEN, J.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's factual finding that the negligence of an unidentified employee, agent or servant of the defendant caused the plaintiffs injuries. The named defendant, St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corporation,1 appeals2 from the judgment of the trial court, following a jury trial, in which the jury found for the plaintiff, Thelonious Paige. We conclude that the evidence of causation was insufficient. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

The plaintiff brought this action against the defendant, as the owner of church property known as St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church. It is undisputed that, while the plaintiff was inside and cleaning one of the boilers that heated the church premises, the boiler's oil

250 Conn. 17
burner ignited, causing him serious injuries. The issue in contention was whether the defendant was legally responsible for the fact that the oil burner was turned on while the plaintiff was cleaning the boiler. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of approximately $3.2 million in economic and noneconomic damages. The defendant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the trial court denied. This appeal followed

The defendant claims that there was insufficient evidence from which the jury reasonably could have concluded that an employee, agent or servant of the defendant turned on the oil burner while the plaintiff was cleaning the boiler. We agree.3

"The standard for reviewing the denial of motions to set aside the verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on evidentiary grounds is clear. Our review of the trial court's refusal to [grant the motions] requires us to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, according particular weight to the congruence of the judgment of the trial judge and the jury, who saw the witnesses and heard their testimony.... The verdict will be set aside and judgment directed only if we find that the jury could not reasonably and legally have reached their conclusion.... Mather v. Griffin Hospital, 207 Conn. 125, 130, 540 A.2d 666 (1988)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Suarez v. Dickmont Plastics Corp., 242 Conn. 255, 277, 698 A.2d 838 (1997). We apply this familiar and deferential scope of review, however, in light of the equally

250 Conn. 18
familiar principle that the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence to remove the jury's function of examining inferences and finding facts from the realm of speculation. Boehm v. Kish, 201 Conn. 385, 389, 517 A.2d 624 (1986) ("[w]hen an element necessary to a cause of action cannot be established without conjecture, the evidence presented cannot withstand a motion for a directed verdict"). Moreover, it is well established that, although the jury is entitled to disbelieve any evidence, it may not draw a contrary inference on the basis of that disbelief. Novak v. Anderson, 178 Conn. 506, 508, 423 A.2d 147 (1979) ("[w]hile it is true that it is within the province of the jury to accept or reject a defendant's testimony, a jury in rejecting such testimony cannot conclude that the opposite is true")

The evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, was as follows. In April, 1988, the plaintiff was an employee of the Turnpike Furnace Company (Turnpike Furnace). On the morning of April 22, 1988, the plaintiff and a coworker, Osvaldo Cano, were assigned to clean the defendant's two boilers (boiler number one and boiler number two). Cano was the "leadman" on the job, with the plaintiff acting as his assistant. The plaintiff and Cano had worked together as leadman and assistant once or twice a week for approximately six months prior to April 22, 1988.

The defendant's properties consisted of: (1) a church; (2) a convent located across the street from the church; and (3) a rectory located at the top of a hill on the street where the church was located. The church was a two-story facility that consisted of: (1) a church that could hold approximately 800 people; (2) a school that instructed approximately 210 students in grades one through eight; and (3) a parish hall that could hold approximately 350 people. The boilers provided heat to both the church and the school, and were located in a separate room, near the parish hall, on the lower

250 Conn. 19
level of the church. A person could access the boiler room from the church, the school or the parish hall, without ever having to go outside of the facility.

The defendant employed approximately twenty persons, including three priests, three nuns, eight lay teachers, one school principal, two secretaries, three custodial workers, one housekeeper and one cook. Of these employees, only the teachers,4 the principal, the custodial workers and the priests worked in the church building. The secretaries, the cook and the housekeeper worked up the hill in the rectory, and the nuns resided in the convent across the street.

On April 22, 1988, the date of the accident, the school was not in session because of a spring recess. Two painters, Gary D'Amico and Carl Coletta,5 who were not employees of the church, were working inside of the building. Juan Hernandez, the maintenance supervisor, was scheduled to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 22, and visited the boiler room upon arriving at work and spoke for several minutes with the plaintiff and Cano, who were already at work.6

That same day, masses were held at 7 a.m. and at 12:10 p.m. Father John E. Gilmartin celebrated the 7 a.m. mass, and a different priest, who did not testify at trial, celebrated the 12:10 p.m. mass.7 The temperature on April 22 reached forty-two degrees fahrenheit at 7

250 Conn. 20
a.m., fifty-one degrees at 10 a.m., and fifty-six degrees at 1 p.m.

At 8:30 a.m., when the plaintiff and Cano arrived at the church, the building and the boiler room were unlocked. They noticed that boiler number two was warm to the touch and glowing fluorescent orange, indicating that it recently had been in operation. As was generally the practice before cleaning a boiler, Cano checked to make sure that each of the switches on the control panel was in the off position. Although boiler number two felt warm, it was not running at the time that the plaintiff and Cano arrived, and the control panel switch indicated that both boilers were off. According to the plaintiff's expert, based on the amount of time the boiler ordinarily would take to cool down, the boiler must have been operating within six to ten hours of the plaintiffs and Cano's arrival. Both boilers remained off from the time that the boiler cleaners arrived, until the plaintiff was injured.

Due to the size of the two boilers, it was necessary to clean them from the inside. After it was decided that the plaintiff would take the first turn at working on the inside, and that Cano would pass him the necessary equipment from the outside, the plaintiff entered boiler number one. The plaintiff was wearing a protective suit and face mask, which served to protect him against breathing in or absorbing soot into his skin.

Approximately one-half hour after the plaintiff had entered boiler number one, its oil burner was activated.8 Flames blocked the hatchway doors, rendering it impossible for the plaintiff to escape. Upon hearing the plaintiffs screams, Cano pulled the vacuum hose that was used in the cleaning process out of the boiler, and attempted to pull the plaintiff through the hatchway

250 Conn. 21
door. Unable to free the plaintiff, Cano ran to the boiler room door and screamed for help. The painters heard his screams and came to the boiler room. While Coletta was spraying the flame with a fire extinguisher, Cano began hitting the switches in an attempt to extinguish the flame. Cano found, however, as he relayed to the fire marshal who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident, that the switches were already in the off position.9

Coletta eventually was able to pull the plaintiff from the boiler. Fire and paramedical assistance arrived shortly thereafter, and the plaintiff was taken to the hospital. As the result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered extensive third and fourth degree burns over two thirds of his body, with burns down to the bones on his legs and his ankles. With the exception of his head, his upper arms and a portion of his upper torso, the plaintiff remains scarred over most of his body.

According to both parties' experts, in order for the burner to have ignited, both the circuit breakers, which were located on the wall opposite the boilers, and the emergency switches10 would have had to have been activated. On the date of the accident, all of the circuit breakers and the emergency switches were located

250 Conn. 22
inside of the boiler room, and the only possible way to access these controls was to enter the boiler room.11 Moreover, the plaintiffs expert testified that there would be at least a fifteen second delay between the switches being activated and the ignition of a flame. The plaintiff's expert also stated that, in his opinion, the circuit breakers and the emergency switches were functioning properly on April 22, 1988. On the basis of all of the available evidence, and viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it is therefore apparent, and the parties do not dispute, that the only...

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85 practice notes
  • Skakel v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19251
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 4, 2018
    ...have subsequently taken a different position upon reconsideration. See, e.g., Paige v. Saint Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp. , 250 Conn. 14, 35, 734 A.2d 85 (1999) (Palmer, J. , concurring) ("Upon reconsideration, I am persuaded that the evidence does not support the jury's verdict, an......
  • Torres v. Department of Correction, No. CV-01 0819015S.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • February 22, 2006
    ...of fair judgment and a rough sense of justice." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Paige v. St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 250 Conn. 14, 25, 734 A.2d 85 (1999), citing Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 354-56, 162 N.E. 99 (1928) (Andrews, J., dissenting). "[I]t is ......
  • Craig v. Driscoll, (SC 16608).
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 4, 2003
    ...conduct both caused the injury in fact and proximately caused the injury. Paige v. St. 262 Conn. 331 Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 250 Conn. 14, 24-25, 734 A.2d 85 (1999); Wu v. Fairfield, 204 Conn. 435, 438, 528 A.2d 364 "The test for cause in fact is, simply, would the injury have......
  • Munn v. Hotchkiss Sch., No. 3:09–cv–919 SRU.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • June 5, 2014
    ...Gomes v. Com. Union Ins. Co., 258 Conn. 603, 615, 783 A.2d 462 (2001) (foreseeability); Paige v. St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 250 Conn. 14, 24–25, 734 A.2d 85 (1999) (discussing the interplay of cause in fact and proximate cause); Kowal v. Hofher, 181 Conn. 355, 359, 436 A.2d 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
85 cases
  • Skakel v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19251
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 4, 2018
    ...have subsequently taken a different position upon reconsideration. See, e.g., Paige v. Saint Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp. , 250 Conn. 14, 35, 734 A.2d 85 (1999) (Palmer, J. , concurring) ("Upon reconsideration, I am persuaded that the evidence does not support the jury's verdict, an......
  • Torres v. Department of Correction, No. CV-01 0819015S.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • February 22, 2006
    ...of fair judgment and a rough sense of justice." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Paige v. St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 250 Conn. 14, 25, 734 A.2d 85 (1999), citing Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 354-56, 162 N.E. 99 (1928) (Andrews, J., dissenting). "[I]t is ......
  • Craig v. Driscoll, (SC 16608).
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 4, 2003
    ...conduct both caused the injury in fact and proximately caused the injury. Paige v. St. 262 Conn. 331 Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 250 Conn. 14, 24-25, 734 A.2d 85 (1999); Wu v. Fairfield, 204 Conn. 435, 438, 528 A.2d 364 "The test for cause in fact is, simply, would the injury have......
  • Munn v. Hotchkiss Sch., No. 3:09–cv–919 SRU.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • June 5, 2014
    ...Gomes v. Com. Union Ins. Co., 258 Conn. 603, 615, 783 A.2d 462 (2001) (foreseeability); Paige v. St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church Corp., 250 Conn. 14, 24–25, 734 A.2d 85 (1999) (discussing the interplay of cause in fact and proximate cause); Kowal v. Hofher, 181 Conn. 355, 359, 436 A.2d 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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