The Honorable Stefan R. Underhill of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut issued a decision denying summary judgment to a defendant in a case in which Maya Murphy P.C., represents the Plaintiff (Chappetta v. Soto, 3:06 cv 1913(SRU)).  Andrea Chappetta was injured in a rear-end motor vehicle collision on I-95 in Connecticut in 2003; following surgery to address her injuries, she fell in a movie theater (in New York) owned by Regal Cinemas, which fall irreparably and significantly damaged her surgically repaired shoulder while also causing new injuries.

The Lawsuits

Plaintiff commenced one lawsuit against two defendants in different states, suing both the Connecticut motor vehicle operator and the New York movie theater in the United States District Court in June of 2005.  Following initial motion practice, the lawsuit against the Connecticut driver was dismissed by the Court for lack of personal jurisdiction, on the basis of a claimed statute of limitations defense.

Plaintiff re-filed the action, invoking the protections and applicability of the Connecticut “Savings Statute” (C.G.S. Sec. 52.592), and immediately faced a second attack by the Connecticut defendant, who sought to escape liability and dismiss the lawsuit rather than proceed to trial on the merits of Ms. Chappetta’s claims.

After exhaustive discovery, comprehensive motion practice, and extensive oral argument before the Court, this  decision represents a landmark interpretation and clear definition of the Connecticut savings statute in federal diversity jurisdiction cases.  The Court held that the mere filing of an action in federal court (the filing was prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, even though personal service was not completed until after the statute of limitations had expired) was sufficient to satisfy the savings statute and allow a case to be heard on the merits.

Considering Rocco v. Garrison

This was clearly a case of first impression; indeed, the Court acknowledged during oral arguments that no case existed under State or Federal case law which was directly on point.  This decision carefully analyzed and expanded the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 2004 holding in Rocco v. Garrison, 268 Conn. 541 (2004), stating, in part:

“In my view, however, the better reading of Rocco is that the Court held that the defendant’s receipt of actual notice of the pendency of a federal court action is sufficient, but not necessary, to commence an action for purposes of the savings statute.  In other words, by indicating that the action was commenced ‘when’ the defendant received notice, the Court meant that on that date, which was within the statute of limitations, the Rocco plaintiffs’ action had been commenced; it did not mean that the action had been commenced because the defendant received actual notice or that the action was commenced by reason of the receipt of actual notice…”

The Court’s Reasoning

The Court went on to reason the following:

“In a real sense, therefore, an action is commenced in federal court upon filing; indeed, with federal court cases other than diversity of citizenship cases, the statute of limitations is satisfied upon the filing of the complaint rather than service of process.  Although commencement in the sense of opening a federal court case and assigning a docket number does not satisfy the statute of limitations under Connecticut law, the Rocco Court suggested that it might constitute ‘commencement’ of an action for purposes of the savings statute…if an action governed by Connecticut law is filed in federal court within the statute of limitations but is not properly served pursuant to Connecticut law so that it has not been timely commenced for purposes of the statute of limitations, the savings statute permits it to be brought again within one year.”

And so, with the Court’s adept reasoning and this clear decision – after persistent, aggressive legal work and detailed argument from counsel – Ms. Chappetta will soon have the opportunity to have a jury consider the gravity of her injuries and all parties responsible for her damages.

If you have questions regarding a statute of limitations or any personal injury matter, please do not hesitate to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.