Skrzypiec v. Noonan, No. 14724

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBefore PETERS; NORCOTT
Citation633 A.2d 716,228 Conn. 1
PartiesRobert SKRZYPIEC et al. v. J.P. Augustine NOONAN et al.
Decision Date23 November 1993
Docket NumberNo. 14724

Page 716

633 A.2d 716
228 Conn. 1
Robert SKRZYPIEC et al.
v.
J.P. Augustine NOONAN et al.
No. 14724.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Sept. 22, 1993.
Decided Nov. 23, 1993.

Page 717

[228 Conn. 2] Penn Rhodeen, for appellants (plaintiffs).

Karen P. Blado, with whom were Gordon W. Patterson and, on the brief, Grant H. Miller, for appellee (named defendant).

Thomas F. Kelsey, for appellee (defendant Richard L.R. Engelhardt).

Before [228 Conn. 1] PETERS, C.J., and NORCOTT, KATZ, EDWARD Y. O'CONNELL and FOTI, JJ.

[228 Conn. 3] NORCOTT, Associate Justice.

This appeal arises out of a dispute over the release of confidential information regarding psychiatric treatment. The plaintiff, Robert W. Skrzypiec, 1 brought an action alleging negligence and a violation of General Statutes §§ 52-146d and 52-146e 2 against [228 Conn. 4] the

Page 718

defendants, J.P. Augustine Noonan, a psychiatrist, and Richard L.R. Engelhardt, a social worker, 3 to recover damages resulting from the disclosure of confidential psychiatric information to the plaintiff's employer. The case was tried before a jury and was bifurcated to try the issues of duty and breach separately from the issues of causation and damages. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the issues of duty and breach, but awarded no damages in the second phase of the trial. The trial court rendered judgment for the defendants. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c). We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts are relevant to this appeal. On March 5, 1987, the plaintiff, a captain in the Southington[228 Conn. 5] fire department, attempted to rescue four people trapped in a burning building. In the course of his search, the plaintiff, after injuring his ribs, exhausted his portable air supply. Then, while crawling along the floor, he rolled over and found himself lying on the body of a dead child. At this point the plaintiff believed that his death was imminent. He managed, however, to make his way out of the building to safety. Despite the efforts of the plaintiff, three children and one adult perished in the fire.

The plaintiff testified that he was upset with the way the fire had been handled. He felt that errors in judgment had been made by the person in command at the scene because that person lacked the experience necessary to deal with the situation. Specifically, the plaintiff opined that the fire truck had been positioned incorrectly at the scene. He further testified that had this mistake not been made the four people who perished in the fire could have been saved. The plaintiff also testified that he felt guilty and responsible, as well as angry at his superiors and coworkers, for the deaths that resulted from the fire.

As a result of his involvement with the tragic fire of March 5, 1987, the plaintiff experienced severe emotional and psychological distress. He became withdrawn, experienced nightmares, had difficulty sleeping and increased his consumption of alcohol. The plaintiff sought counseling from Engelhardt and was diagnosed as suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. In the course of his treatment with Engelhardt, the plaintiff was examined by Noonan for the purpose of obtaining medication to facilitate sleep. After

Page 719

a single examination, Noonan prescribed a sleeping pill for the plaintiff.

Because he was injured during the course of his employment, the plaintiff filed a claim for workers' [228 Conn. 6] compensation benefits pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1987) § 31-294 and was receiving such benefits during the entire course of his treatment. 4 This benefits claim was premised on the plaintiff's mental and emotional distress resulting from his role in the fire. In response to a request for medical records made by the Frank B. Hall Company, the workers' compensation insurance carrier for the Southington fire department, Engelhardt inadvertently sent a report detailing the plaintiff's treatment to his employer, the Southington fire chief. The report addressed to the insurance carrier consisted of a summary of Engelhardt's treatment notes on Noonan's letterhead, over Noonan's signature. The report noted the plaintiff's symptoms and their causes, including his anger and disapproval concerning the mishandling of the fire. This report was sent without the express written consent of the plaintiff. In fact, the plaintiff had specifically asked that he be allowed to review and "sanitize" any such report prior to its release.

[228 Conn. 7] At trial, the plaintiff and the defendants advanced substantially different theories as to the effects of the disclosure on the plaintiff's mental and emotional well-being. The plaintiff testified that as a result of the disclosure his nightmares and inability to sleep had worsened and he had experienced intense rage and uncontrollable anger toward the defendants. He further testified that as a result of the disclosure he felt betrayed and could not trust anyone enough to continue treatment. This testimony was corroborated at trial by the testimony of three psychiatrists offered as expert witnesses by the plaintiff. All three experts agreed that the plaintiff suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder due to his experience in the fire and that his treatment for that disorder was hindered by the disclosure.

Walter Borden, a psychiatrist who evaluated the plaintiff in the months immediately following the disclosure for the purpose of diagnosis only, testified that the disclosure delayed the plaintiff's recovery by making it impossible for him to continue treatment with Engelhardt. He further testified that the disclosure undermined the progress the plaintiff had been making in treatment and that future treatment would be problematic because of the plaintiff's inability to trust others. Borden's opinion was that, absent the disclosure, the plaintiff would have taken between six and eighteen months to achieve substantial recovery.

Laurence Goldstein, a psychiatrist who treated the plaintiff from October 5, 1987, through August 11, 1989, testified that subsequent to the disclosure the plaintiff had suffered from disturbed sleep, anxiety and depression requiring treatment with drugs. Goldstein testified that both the fire and the disclosure had caused the problems for which he was treating the plaintiff. He also testified that the disclosure increased the difficulty of treatment by, among other complications, [228 Conn. 8] requiring more extensive use of medication

Page 720

than was previously necessary. 5

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist who treated the plaintiff from April 11, 1990, through the time of trial, also testified that the disclosure had impaired the plaintiff's ability to trust other health care providers, damaged his self-esteem and caused him to lose confidence, thus impairing his receptiveness to psychiatric treatment. In her opinion, the plaintiff would have returned to "reasonable baseline functioning" within nine to twelve months of the fire had it not been for the disclosure.

Conversely, the defendants argued that the plaintiff's injuries had been caused by the fire and not the disclosure. They relied primarily on the expert testimony of Neil Leibowitz, a psychiatrist, who, on behalf of the defendants, examined the plaintiff in anticipation of the trial. Leibowitz agreed with the other experts that the plaintiff suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder brought on by the fire. Leibowitz, however, disagreed as to the effect of the disclosure on the plaintiff's subsequent symptomology. He testified that after the fire the plaintiff had suffered from severe internal conflict. The plaintiff did not trust his coworkers. He felt betrayed by them and angry at them for the way in which they had handled the fire, but he also had to depend on them to continue in his role as a firefighter. Leibowitz testified that the rage and anger directed at the defendants was simply the projection of the plaintiff's feelings toward his coworkers. He testified that this displacement allowed the plaintiff to resolve his internal conflict with the least disruption to his life.

Leibowitz also testified, as further support for his theory, that the disclosure was a relatively harmless event. [228 Conn. 9] He pointed to the fact that the release of such a report is an everyday occurrence and that in his opinion it did not rise to the magnitude of a death, a fire or other disastrous event that might cause posttraumatic stress disorder in a person. Leibowitz also asserted that the effect of the disclosure was tempered by the fact that the plaintiff had previously confronted his boss and coworkers with his negative feelings about the handling of the fire.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the issues of duty and breach, but awarded zero damages during the second phase of the trial. The trial court thereafter rendered judgment for the defendants. The plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict, which motion was denied by the court. The plaintiff then brought this appeal claiming that the trial court abused its discretion by: (1) denying his motion to set aside the verdict on the basis that the evidence did not support a verdict that the disclosure of the confidential psychiatric information had caused no injury to the plaintiff; (2) refusing to give curative instructions after defense counsel's allegedly improper legal argument to the jury; (3) refusing to charge the jury on the defendants' liability for harm caused by a subsequent doctor and injury to an unusually vulnerable person; (4) limiting cross-examination of the defendants' expert witness; and (5) allowing Leibowitz to testify as to the effect of Borden's examination on the plaintiff. 6 For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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[228...

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62 practice notes
  • State v. Coleman, No. 12287
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 4, 1994
    ...charge given by the trial court was correct in law and sufficiently guided the jury on the issues presented at trial. Skrzypiec v. Noonan, 228 Conn. 1, 18, 633 A.2d 716 (1993); Hall v. Burns, 213 Conn. 446, 482, 569 A.2d 10 The trial court further instructed the jury that "[t]here was testi......
  • Byrne v. Avery Ctr. for Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., SC 19873
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 16, 2018
    ...of Representative Edward C. Krawiecki (explaining that "[t]his sets parameters on how you get information").8 In Skrzypiec v. Noonan , 228 Conn. 1, 9, 633 A.2d 716 (1993), this court affirmed the judgment of the trial court in favor of the defendant on a firefighter's claim for negligence a......
  • Blakeslee Arpaia Chapman, Inc. v. EI Constructors, Inc., No. 15381
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 21, 1997
    ...in the context of whether the "pay-when-paid" clause excused payment, we decline to review this claim on appeal. See Skrzypiec v. Noonan, 228 Conn. 1, 14-15, 633 A.2d 716 16 Waterbury notified the plaintiff and EI to discontinue all work on the plant, effective at 4:30 p.m. on September 14,......
  • Santopietro v. City of New Haven, No. 15355
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 27, 1996
    ...153 Conn. 72, 86-87, 214 A.2d 362 (1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 921, 86 S.Ct. 1372, 16 L.Ed.2d 442 (1966); see Skrzypiec v. Noonan, 228 Conn. 1, 13, 633 A.2d 716 (1993) (purpose of rule is "to alert the trial court to claims of error while there is still an opportunity for 14 We have previ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
62 cases
  • State v. Coleman, No. 12287
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 4, 1994
    ...charge given by the trial court was correct in law and sufficiently guided the jury on the issues presented at trial. Skrzypiec v. Noonan, 228 Conn. 1, 18, 633 A.2d 716 (1993); Hall v. Burns, 213 Conn. 446, 482, 569 A.2d 10 The trial court further instructed the jury that "[t]here was testi......
  • Byrne v. Avery Ctr. for Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., SC 19873
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 16, 2018
    ...of Representative Edward C. Krawiecki (explaining that "[t]his sets parameters on how you get information").8 In Skrzypiec v. Noonan , 228 Conn. 1, 9, 633 A.2d 716 (1993), this court affirmed the judgment of the trial court in favor of the defendant on a firefighter's claim for negligence a......
  • Blakeslee Arpaia Chapman, Inc. v. EI Constructors, Inc., No. 15381
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 21, 1997
    ...in the context of whether the "pay-when-paid" clause excused payment, we decline to review this claim on appeal. See Skrzypiec v. Noonan, 228 Conn. 1, 14-15, 633 A.2d 716 16 Waterbury notified the plaintiff and EI to discontinue all work on the plant, effective at 4:30 p.m. on September 14,......
  • Santopietro v. City of New Haven, No. 15355
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 27, 1996
    ...153 Conn. 72, 86-87, 214 A.2d 362 (1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 921, 86 S.Ct. 1372, 16 L.Ed.2d 442 (1966); see Skrzypiec v. Noonan, 228 Conn. 1, 13, 633 A.2d 716 (1993) (purpose of rule is "to alert the trial court to claims of error while there is still an opportunity for 14 We have previ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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