You probably cheered when you heard the news. A “bad aunt” named Jennifer Connell, sued her then 8-year-old nephew Sean Tarala for injuries he allegedly caused during a hug. It took about 20 minutes for jurors to decide the now 12-year-old boy wasn’t negligent when hugging his aunt.
In her lawsuit filed in 2013, Connell wanted Tarala to pay $127,000 in damages. She alleged Tarala jumped into her arms when she arrived at his birthday party in 2011. She had no choice but to catch him as he flew into her arms. They fell and Connell fractured her wrist. In court documents, Connell also claimed the injury caused her to become permanently disabled. She testified to jurors that the injury had ruined her work and social life.
The Insurance Company Made Her Do It
Connell and her attorneys were quick to point out that she didn’t want to sue the little boy. Connecticut’s insurance law requires anyone injured on property to name a defendant as the responsible party. Since she and Tarala fell together, she claimed she had no choice, but to sue him.
The only reason Connell sued was to get the homeowner insurance company to pay her medical bills. Connell had to sue the eight-year nephew because the law requires a stand in for the insurance company. She underwent two surgeries and faced another surgery to correct the horrific injury. Her attorneys alleged she never wanted money from the boy or his family.
Did Connell have Options other than Suing a Child?
Yes. When injured by someone else, it’s imperative to determine how medical expenses will be paid. Unpaid medical bills incur interest. The responsible party isn’t responsible for the interest that accumulates on unpaid medical bills.
Connell had the following options available to her when trying to get her medical expenses paid:
- Own health insurance or HMO
- Sue the homeowner’s insurance
- Ask the boy’s father for help with the medical expenses
She took the second option. Prior to trial, the insurance company offered her one dollar. So she sued. She had to sue somebody and that somebody was an 8-year-old boy.
The lawsuit makes no sense. She probably would have had better luck pursuing her health insurance company or asking the father to help with the medical bills.
Children Will Be Children in the Eyes of the Law
A personal injury case comes down to liability. Which party is liable for causing the plaintiff’s injury? Traditionally, the court’s compares liability to a reasonable person standard. A reasonable person is considered anyone in the same or similar circumstances.
However, children are viewed differently. They are held to a lower standard. A child is not expected to conform his behavior to match an adult’s behavior. Yes, they can be found liable in some personal injury cases, but only based on a subjective standard.
A subjective standard judges a child’s behavior on what a child of similar age, intelligence, and experience behaves. That’s why the judge instructed the jury to decide liability based on the prudent person standard of an 8–year-old.
- Would an 8-year-old excited to see his Aunt from New York race to her? Yes.
- Would an 8-year-old excited to see his Aunt from New York jump into her arms? Yes.
- Would an 8-year-old excited to see his Aunt from New York give her an overzealous hug? Yes.
The Aunt Could Not Have Won
Connell isn’t a bad person. She simply didn’t understand how a child is viewed in the eyes of the law. Yes, the insurance laws may have forced her to sue a little boy for her medical bills. Ultimately, she was set up to fail because no juror was really going to believe the 8-year-old was reckless when he was just trying to give her a hug.
In personal injury cases, the hardest part is determining who is liable. There’s so many possible defendants claiming they aren’t liable. In some cases, an accident happens. Someone is injured. Lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering are a part of her life now. That doesn’t mean an accident is just that—an accident.
Authored by Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer