Litigation

Negligence Claims Against School Following Son’s Suicide

Plaintiff’s Negligence Claims Against School Following Son’s Suicide Survive Motion to Strike, Proceeds Further Into Litigation

Michael Girard was a senior at Putnam High School during the 2005-2006 academic year when his guidance counselor learned that he was suicidal and/or had threatened to kill himself. However, the counselor took no action to aid Michael despite a conversation with him about the threat, and simply let him leave for home by himself. Michael also “expressed an intention to harm or kill himself in the presence of employees and agents of the High School, Board of Education, and Town” while on school grounds during school hours. Once again, no official action was taken by any of these individuals.

On March 23, 2006, Michael committed suicide by methadone toxicity.

At the time of Michael’s death, Putnam schools had a Suicide Prevention Policy (policy) in effect in the district. It set forth “detailed guidelines” on actions for staff to take when confronted with a scenario such as Michael’s. It required “immediate notification of emergency personnel or school psychologist or social worker,” and stated, “Under no circumstances is a student allowed to go home. The student must be released only to a parent, guardian, or other responsible adult.”

In light of this policy, Michael’s parents filed a negligence lawsuit against the Town of Putnam, Board of Education, and various school employees, including the guidance counselor (collectively “defendants”). However, the defendants submitted a motion to strike, challenging the legal sufficiency of the amended complaint’s allegations. They argued on two fronts:

  • “The act of suicide is a deliberate and intentional act” absolving the defendants from liability. In other words, because Michael’s death was an unforeseeable, intentional tort, the defendants were could not be sued for negligence.
  • The defendants also claimed governmental immunity protection, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §§ 52-557n and 52-557n(b)(6). “[M]unicipalities and its employees may be exposed to liability for acts of negligence unless the function involved the exercise of discretion,” and there is no immunity for ministerial acts (exercise of judgment and discretion not allowed). In essence, the defendants argued that whether to follow the policy was “a discretionary function.”

The Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Windham at Putnam denied the motion to strike as to these claims. It noted that while “suicide generally is an unforeseeable result that serves to preclude liability,” it does not automatically “break the chain of causation if it was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s tortious act.” In this case, the Court determined that Michael’s suicide “could be a foreseeable result of school staff’s failure to follow the suicide prevention policy.” As further explained:

It is foreseeable that if a person declares an intent to commit suicide, suicide is a foreseeable risk if nothing is done. Indeed, it was the written policy of the Putnam High School to immediately safeguard a student and obtain emergency medical or professional assessment and counseling for such a student in that circumstance. That is a clear cut warning of the need to take action. It creates a foreseeable harm as a consequence of a failure to act. No reasonable staff member could have concluded otherwise…

In addition, the Court was not persuaded by the defendants’ second argument. “[T]he Suicide Prevention Policy, by its terms, resolved that staff members are not qualified to assess whether someone is suicidal and it forbids discretion or delay in sending a student, who threatens suicide, to someone who is qualified to make the assessment.” When a staff member faces a situation like Michael’s, they must “follow their own mandatory procedures after a ministerial duty was triggered.” Therefore, the governmental immunity protection was inapplicable.

Ultimately, the Court granted the motion to strike as to intentional infliction of emotional distress claims (as to the parents), but permitted the negligence claims related to Michael’s death to proceed further into litigation. “The plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to show that the defendants committed negligent acts that increased the risk of accomplishment of a suicide by [Michael], and that their negligence was a substantial factor in causing that harm.”

Jury selection and the start of the trial are scheduled to begin at 9:30am on October 16, 2012. The case is Estate of Michael Girard et al. v. Town of Putnam et al., CV-08-5002754-S.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about school liability or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Operating Under the Influence in Connecticut

If you are facing allegations of Operating Under the Influence (“OUI”) under Connecticut Law, you must understand the charges you are facing.  These offenses are taken seriously and can result in significant penalties including community service, probation, fines, license restrictions, and even jail time – depending on the facts and circumstances of your case.  The actions you take, or fail to take, before, during, and after you are charged can alter the outcome of the case significantly.

In the event that this is not your first-time facing allegations of Operating Under the Influence in Connecticut, the consequences become significantly more serious.  Here is what you need to know about OUI penalties in Connecticut:

1st Offense

Under Connecticut law, any person who violates the operating under the influence statute for the first time will be charged with a class B misdemeanor.  While this may sound relatively insignificant to you, the statute imposes additional penalties including a mandatory minimum of forty-eight (48) hours in jail and a fine of between five hundred and one thousand ($500-$1000) dollars.  If you are facing charges in addition to the OUI charge, expect even more consequences.  

2nd Offense

Any person who violates the operating under the influence statute for the second time in Connecticut will face even more serious consequences.  Under the statute, an OUI conviction as a second offender will result in a felony, rather than the misdemeanor charge given to first-time offenders.  The statute additionally imposes a much more severe mandatory minimum of one hundred twenty (120) days in jail and a fine somewhere between one and four ($1,000-$4,000) dollars.  Again, additional charges may result in even more penalties.

3rd Offense 

By the time you are charged with your third OUI in Connecticut, the law is not on your side and you can expect serious consequences.  If your choices have led to yet another OUI arrest, under Connecticut law you will be charged with an even more serious class E felony.  A conviction of a Class E felonies can mean up to three (3) years in prison.  The statute additionally requires a mandatory minimum of one (1) year in jail and a fine somewhere between two and five thousand ($2,000-$5,000) dollars.

On top of the already serious consequences, additional penalties may include community service, the requirement to complete a criminal diversionary program including the Alcohol Education Program, probation, conditional discharge outlining the terms of your release from custody, points on your license, the installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle requiring you to submit to a breath test every time you operate your vehicle, other license restrictions, and license suspension.   With so much at stake, it is imperative that you seek the assistance of competent counsel. An experienced OUI attorney can assist you in negotiating the best possible outcome for your case.

 

If you have any further questions about Operating Under the Influence in Connecticut or would like the representation of an experienced attorney to assist you, contact our Managing Partner Joseph Maya directly via email at JMaya@Mayalaw.com or by telephone at (203) 221-3100 for a free consultation.

 

Can Extradition be Challenged?

The circumstances surrounding extradition are extremely delicate in regards to this question.  The only way extradition may be challenged is if there is a mistake of identity.  Extradition arises when a person is charged with a crime under state statute and flees the state.  Most states will follow the procedures set forth in the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act when extraditing an accused from one state to another.  Under the U.S. Constitution, states are not given the power to review the underlying charge can only consider whether the petitioner is the person named in the request for extradition.  For these reasons, it would be best to seek experienced counsel that is well versed in this area of law and can represent you in the state of your crime.

If you have any further questions regarding criminal law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Can Extradition be Challenged?

The circumstances surrounding extradition are extremely delicate in regards to this question.  The only way extradition may be challenged is if there is a mistake of identity.  Extradition arises when a person is charged with a crime under state statute and flees the state.  Most states will follow the procedures set forth in the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act when extraditing an accused from one state to another.  Under the U.S. Constitution, states are not given the power to review the underlying charge can only consider whether the petitioner is the person named in the request for extradition.  For these reasons, it would be best to seek experienced counsel that is well versed in this area of law and can represent you in the state of your crime.

If you have any further questions regarding criminal law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Do I Have to Comply with Document Requests for A Deposition When the Opposing Side Has Not Complied?

You have an obligation to produce documents requested for deposition regardless of whether the opposing side has produced the documents or not.  If the opposing side has filed a motion for an extension of time then they might have been granted additional time to comply by the court.  You have the option to file for an extension of time, if you would like.  It would be helpful for you to consult with an experienced trial attorney in this matter to educate you on the rules of practice in Connecticut and the best way to proceed in this scenario.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Do I Have to Comply with Document Requests for A Deposition When the Opposing Side Has Not Complied?

You have an obligation to produce documents requested for deposition regardless of whether the opposing side has produced the documents or not.  If the opposing side has filed a motion for an extension of time then they might have been granted additional time to comply by the court.  You have the option to file for an extension of time, if you would like.  It would be helpful for you to consult with an experienced trial attorney in this matter to educate you on the rules of practice in Connecticut and the best way to proceed in this scenario.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Are Records of Juvenile Matters Open to the Public in Connecticut?

Generally, records of juvenile matters are not open to the public.  These records are confidential and sealed by statute.  There are exceptions to this confidentiality.  In cases involving delinquency, the record of the case shall be available to the victim of the crime committed by the juvenile.  In this case, the record is disclosed to the same extent as the record of the case of a defendant in a criminal proceeding in the regular criminal docket would be disclosed.  There are other items that are automatically sealed by statute as well, including: psychologist and patient communications, and communications between a social worker and the person consulting with the worker, etc.

If you have any questions regarding a criminal matter in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Are Records of Juvenile Matters Open to the Public in Connecticut?

Generally, records of juvenile matters are not open to the public.  These records are confidential and sealed by statute.  There are exceptions to this confidentiality.  In cases involving delinquency, the record of the case shall be available to the victim of the crime committed by the juvenile.  In this case, the record is disclosed to the same extent as the record of the case of a defendant in a criminal proceeding in the regular criminal docket would be disclosed.  There are other items that are automatically sealed by statute as well, including: psychologist and patient communications, and communications between a social worker and the person consulting with the worker, etc.

If you have any questions regarding a criminal matter in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Is Everything That Happens in Front of a Judge on the Record in Connecticut?

All court proceedings in front of a judge are recorded by a court reporter.  If you are in need of a copy of the record from the day you were in court, you have the option to contact the court reporter to get a copy of the transcript.  You can do so by contacting the court with your docket number, the date of your appearance, and the name of the judge.  If you are having custody issues, they may not be resolved simply by obtaining a copy of your court transcript.  It may be wise to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can educate you on all of your options and tell you the best way to proceed for the benefit of you and your child.

If you have any questions regarding family law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Is Everything That Happens in Front of a Judge on the Record in Connecticut?

All court proceedings in front of a judge are recorded by a court reporter.  If you are in need of a copy of the record from the day you were in court, you have the option to contact the court reporter to get a copy of the transcript.  You can do so by contacting the court with your docket number, the date of your appearance, and the name of the judge.  If you are having custody issues, they may not be resolved simply by obtaining a copy of your court transcript.  It may be wise to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can educate you on all of your options and tell you the best way to proceed for the benefit of you and your child.

If you have any questions regarding family law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.