Posts tagged with "Fairfield County"

State Lawmaker Involved in Car Accident Lawsuit Accused of Drunk Driving

A personal injury lawsuit filed this week accuses Connecticut State Rep. Christina Ayala of fleeing the scene of an accident caused by her own drunk driving, according to a report from the Norwich Bulletin.

Sources say the lawsuit, filed by 26-year-old Krystal Valez, claims that Ayala was under the influence of alcohol when she ran her car into a vehicle driven by Valez. The lawsuit also alleges that Ayala fled the scene of the accident.

The accident in question occurred last August, when Ayala’s 2007 Nissan Sentra allegedly struck a 2002 Honda Accord being driven by Valez.

Ayala allegedly fled the scene of the accident, but a person who witnessed the crash followed her car and eventually forced her to pull over about six blocks from the location of the collision, according to sources.

When Ayala was questioned by officers after the accident, she claimed that she tried to check on Valez following the collision, but that she decided to leave the scene because she felt “scared” due to the presence of a man who was screaming at her.

Car Accident Lawsuit

Interestingly, when police took Ayala into custody, they did not test her for alcohol, because they claimed she did not appear to be intoxicated. Nevertheless, the lawsuit filed by Valez alleges that Ayala was drunk at the time of the crash.

The plaintiff claims that she suffered back injuries and a concussion as a result of the accident, and that her medical costs amount to roughly $11,000.

Valez, however, will have to refute the testimony of Ayala’s father, Alberto Ayala, who claims that his daughter had not been drinking before the accident, according a statement given to the Connecticut Post.

Of course, Alberto Ayala has every incentive to make this claim, because not only is he the driver’s father, he is also named as a defendant in the car accident lawsuit.

Unfortunately for Christina Ayala, a native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the pending personal injury lawsuit is the least of her legal concerns.

Sources say Ayala, who is serving her first term in the state legislature, was officially charged with failing to renew her driver’s registration, failing to obey a traffic signal, and evading responsibility.

During her latest court hearing, Ayala was told by her judge that she could accept a plea bargain offered by prosecutors or stand trial for her criminal counts.

Under the plea deal, Ayala would receive a suspended sentence and have an extended period of probation. Sources say Ayala has three weeks to make her choice.

By JClark, totalinjury.com

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

Woman Injured in Rail Crash Files Train Accident Lawsuit

A 65-year-old woman who was injured in a dramatic train crash last month in Connecticut has filed a negligence lawsuit against Metro-North Railroad, according to a report from ABC News.

Sources say the woman, Elizabeth Sorenson, a resident of Bridgeport, Connecticut, suffered multiple bone fractures and remains in critical condition as doctors tend to a severe brain injury.

The lawsuit was the first claim filed by a victim of the crash that occurred on May 17. According to sources, the crash injured more than 70 people.

Sorenson’s personal injury attorney told sources that he filed the lawsuit in federal court in order to gain access to witnesses that observed the accident and to allow families of the victims to become involved in the investigation.

Sources expect more lawsuits to eventually be filed in the wake of the massive train accident, which happened at 6:10 p.m. on a weekday as the train carried 300 passengers from New York’s Grand Central Station to New Haven, Connecticut.

The train reportedly derailed near a highway overpass in the town of Bridgeport, and was then struck by a train holding 400 passengers that was headed the opposite direction.

The Damage Caused by the Accident

The damage caused by the accident was “absolutely staggering,” according to Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, as he observed the scene. Sources say parts of the roof of some of the train cars had been torn off, and that some of the tracks were noticeably twisted.

Three people remain in critical condition after the accident, and the National Transportation Safety Board has launched a full investigation into the wreck.

Thus far, investigators have yet to isolate the cause of the accident, but the impact was so severe, some passengers initially thought it may have been caused by a bomb.

“We came to a sudden halt. We were jerked. There was smoke. People were screaming; people were really nervous. We were pretty shaken up. They had to smash a window to get us out,” said one passenger traveling from New York.

Another passenger told local sources that they “went flying” and reported that “one entire compartment was completely ripped open.”

Most of the 70 passengers who were injured received prompt treatment at the site of the accident, but three victims are still in critical condition, according to reports.

According to report from train officials, the tracks involved in the collision suffered “extensive infrastructure damage,” and the train involved in the accident will “need to be removed by crane” following a thorough investigation.

By JClark, totalinjury.com

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

$825,000 Verdict for Injuries from Truck Accident

In a personal injury trial in the Stamford Superior Court a woman received $825,000 for injuries to her head and neck suffered in a collision with a large truck.

Case Details

The case involved a motor vehicle accident whereby, the plaintiff, Mrs. Hutter, was hit from behind by a large beer truck owned by DiChello Distributors. As a result of the collision, Mrs. Hutter sustained a number of serious injuries including injuries to her head and neck. She also sustained a mild traumatic brain injury.

During the course of a three week trial, the plaintiff presented a substantial number of witnesses to establish the significance of the impact and the extent of the injuries. The experts included an accident reconstruction expert from Maryland, a bio-mechanical expert from Virginia, a neurologist, a psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist.

In addition to the various expert witness, Mrs. Hutter also presented testimony from her friends who knew her before the time of the accident and were able to explain to the jury the significant change in Mrs. Hutter that occurred as a result of the incident.

The Verdict

After three weeks of evidence, the jury deliberated for two and one-half days and then rendered a verdict in favor of Mrs. Hutter in the amount of $825,000 including over $500,000 for compensation for her pain and suffering.

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

Flood of Lawsuits Suggests New York Hospital a ‘Deathtrap’

Criticism of New York Hospital 

One of New York’s hospitals faces mounting criticism and risks losing federal and state healthcare funding because of widespread complaints of medical errors and shoddy practices.

In October, after a tragedy unfolded at Brookdale Hospital when a newborn died after he was admitted to the emergency room with a fever, an investigation by the city’s medical examiner determined that six month-old Amaan Ahmmad died because he was mistakenly given an adult dose of an antibiotic.

Since then, scrutiny of the hospital’s safety record exposed that Brookdale is defending a slew of lawsuits against it for medical malpractice. According to the New York Daily News, the once-respected Brooklyn hospital has over 100 live lawsuits against it for various acts of substandard care. A state department of health investigation uncovered multiple violations ranging from untested smoke detectors to misidentified blood samples to unsafe conditions for preventing airborne infections.

And a year ago, the hospital’s CEO David Rosen stepped down amid corruption allegations. He was later tried and convicted of trying to bribe three state politicians in return for beneficial treatment of the hospital. State politicians are now calling for changes to the leadership and management of the hospital.

Lawsuits Against the Hospital

On the legal front, some victims of the hospital’s alleged negligence will have a more difficult road to getting justice, thanks to a new state law.

The same month that baby Amaan died, the state legislature passed a tort reform statute that forces parents who sue over their newborn’s birth-related neurological injuries to put any winnings from such a lawsuit into a state fund.

Two lawsuits against Brookdale Hospital – both ending in patient deaths – hint at some of the underlying problems at the beleaguered medical center.

The First Case

In one case, an elderly patient developed bedsores that went untreated by doctors and nurses until she died shortly after.

Nora Stephens, a 92 year-old grandmother who moved to New York after a tough life of sharecropping in Virginia, entered the hospital with her “skin intact,” but developed pressure ulcers on her feet that worsened so quickly to Stage IV ulcers that she developed an infection and gangrene on both feet. Before she could have her feet amputated, she died.

“They didn’t do very basic things to take care of an elderly person not able to get out of bed,” such as turning her every two hours to make sure she did not develop ulcers, said Matthew Gammons, an attorney for Stephens’ relatives.

The Second Case

In a second case, Gammons alleges the hospital’s delayed treatment caused the death of a teenager who arrived at the emergency room with a head injury.

Eighteen year-old Corey Ray appeared “awake, oriented and agitated” when he was brought to the hospital by EMTs after being beaten up at a nearby park.

According to Gammons, the hospital breached normal practices by waiting two and a half hours to give the injured boy a CT scan, then delayed getting him a neurosurgeon for another five and a half hours. In addition to the delay, the neurosurgeon missed two other areas of bleeding in the boy’s brain and a post-operative CT scan wasn’t done until 10 hours after surgery, the lawsuit claims.

“By the time they read the scans, he had a massive hemorrhage in the back of his brain. They missed the ball. … To me, it epitomizes the lack of thoroughness of this hospital,” said Gammons.

He added that he will be looking into whether understaffing and lack of available specialists played a role in the two tragedies.

‘Radical’ New law

The number of lawsuits against a hospital may only represent a fraction of actual errors that take place.

“There may be hundreds of more legitimate cases that have not been brought and hospitals are never accountable for in terms of negligence,” said Joanne Doroshow, an attorney and consumer advocate.

It can be difficult for patients to find out about the history of a hospital, although consumers can look online to check if an individual doctor has a malpractice or disciplinary record, she added.

Recently, many hospitals say they have no money to improve patient care and have moved to cut back on patients’ legal rights, according to Doroshow. For example, for the youngest victims of medical errors in New York, a new law will make their families jump through another hoop to get future medical bills paid. The law requires that money damages awarded for future medical costs of babies who are injured during birth because of medical error go into the state fund. Doroshow criticized it as “a radical piece of legislation that severely cuts back on liability of hospitals when an injury to a newborn is birth-related.”

Besides forcing families who fight and win the long legal battle for their loved ones to then “beg” for money from the state to cover their child’s medical expenses, the new law is bad for patient safety because it takes away a financial incentive for hospitals to feel accountable, she said.

By: Sylvia Hsieh

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a medical malpractice claim, hospital negligence, or personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

$98,000 Settlement for Neck and Back Injuries after Broad-sided by Drunk Driver

A Southbury resident received a $98,000 settlement of his lawsuit stemming from an accident where his vehicle was hit by an intoxicated motorist in a “hit and run” accident.     

The automobile collision happened on a local road in Southbury, Connecticut. The drunk driver defendant was operating a Ford F350 pickup truck which belong to the owner of an excavation company.

The intoxicated motorist crossed over the center of the road into the plaintiff’s travel lane causing the motor vehicle crash.  The plaintiff was forced off the road after being broadsided by the drunk driver.

While the defendant motorist fled the scene, he was later arrested by the Connecticut State Police and charge with DUI.

As a result of the accident the plaintiff suffered neck strain, headaches, lower back strain and tinnitus.  He was treated by a chiropractic physician for her neck and lower back strain and a neurologist for his headaches and tinnitus.  The lawsuit against the intoxicated excavator was settled for $98,000 to cover medical cost and property damage.

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

Family Devastated by Train Derailment Settles for $36 Million

Canadian National Railway will pay a $36 million settlement for wrongful death and personal injury claims stemming from a 2009 derailment in Rockford, Illinois. The tragedy resulted from a combination of freak weather and communications failures.

Case Details

Jose Tellez was injured in the accident and his wife, Zoila, died at the scene. Their 19-year old pregnant daughter also suffered serious injury and miscarried her baby as a result.  All three were in a car stopped at a railroad crossing when the oncoming train derailed. The train included several ethanol tank cars, one of which exploded. The Tellezs’ were all burned as they abandoned the vehicle. Mrs. Tellez never escaped the fire.

According to Robert J. Bingle, who represented the family members, the catastrophe could have been avoided with better communication by Canadian National. The train derailed at a washout near the crossing. Torrential rains that evening caused a retention pond near the rail line to overflow. The runoff from this washed all of the ballast from under a section of track.

“This left the rails literally hanging in the air” at that section, said Bingle.

Communicating Safety Issues

The county sheriff’s office alerted the Canadian National communications center in Montreal of the washout. This information never made it to the engineer of the approaching train. According to Bingle, the Canadian National employee who received the warning that evening was inexperienced and untrained. He didn’t know enough to alert the train’s engineer immediately of the danger.

Bingle pointed out a second problem in Canadian National’s safety system. He said a second office in Edmonton had received a hazardous weather alert about the downpour almost two hours before the accident. But it was bundled with one or more other alerts, and the employee at the Edmonton center didn’t read the entire message. Bingle said local Canadian National employees in illinois admitted in discovery that had the alert been forwarded to them, they would have inspected the track and found the washout in ample time to stop the train.

“It’s certainly our hope and belief that Canadian National will take steps to remedy these flaws in communicating safety issues,” Bingle said.

By Authur Buono

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

Accepting Funds from a Charitable Trust may Create a Contract that Cannot be Unilaterally Modified

Blumenthal v. Getraer, CV106007120S, 2011 WL 4953727 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 4, 2011)

In a case before the Superior Court of Connecticut, the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut brought a declaratory judgment action to represent the public interest in protecting gifts intended for charitable purposes, pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 3-125.   The action posed four specific questions to the court regarding a charitable trust that was intended to honor a respected synagogue member and provide funds for capital improvements to the synagogue to which he belonged.

Case Background

In 2002, a respected member of the synagogue passed away, and was survived by his wife and son.  The following year, a charitable foundation in New York City gave the synagogue he attended a gift of $40,000 which was contingent upon the synagogue’s agreement to name its sanctuary after the deceased.  The gift and additional donations of over $100,000 were placed in a memorial fund, which was controlled by the widow and her son.

After receiving the gift, the synagogue erected a plaque over the entrance to the sanctuary declaring that it was named in honor of the deceased.  At the synagogue’s next board of directors meeting, the widow offered, on behalf of the memorial fund, to give the money in the fund to the synagogue with the restriction that it be used only for capital improvements and not ordinary expenses.  The widow and the son would act as the trustees of the fund and disburse monies for capital improvements at their absolute discretion.  The board of directors approved the arrangement.

The Dispute

A dispute later arose between the widow and her son, and the board of directors.  The widow and her son were dissatisfied because the memorial plaque was covered on several occasions so that it was not visible to people in the synagogue.  For example, during the 110th anniversary celebration of the synagogue, a sign announcing the name of the synagogue was placed over the memorial plaque.  During one Chanukah celebration, decorations were placed over the plaque and left there until July of the following year.

The board of directors was dissatisfied because the widow and her son stopped paying for capital improvements.  The board of directors that approved the arrangement with the widow and her son was dismissed and replaced with a new board.  This new board of directors voted to request the widow and her son to turn control of the fund over to the synagogue.

Determining the Rights of the Parties

In an action seeking declaratory judgment, the sole function of the trial court is to ascertain the rights of the parties under existing law.  Ginsberg v. Post, 177 Conn. 610, 616 (1979).  Four specific questions were posed to the court to determine the rights of the trustees and the rights of the synagogue.  Prior to addressing these questions, the court found that a contract had been formed between the fund and the synagogue based on the synagogue’s acceptance of monies from the fund and other actions taken by the synagogue board of directors.  Therefore, the court found that the vote by the new board of directors had no legal significance because they could not unilaterally change the terms of the previous contract with the widow and her son.

The Court’s Findings

Based on finding the existence of a contract, the court determined that the widow and her son were entitled to continue to control the fund and act as its trustees.  However, the court also found that equity required them, in their capacity as trustees, to reimburse the synagogue for the capital expenditures made in reasonable reliance on the agreement that the fund would pay for capital improvements.  The trustees had discretion to determine what constituted a capital improvement.  The fund was also required to continue to pay for capital improvements, on the condition that the memorial plaque was visible to all who would be able to see it.

The court ordered that the memorial plaque not be covered and, if it was, that would constitute a breach of contract on the part of the synagogue.  In that event, the widow and son would be free to terminate the trust and the fund, and either return the money to the donors or use it for other charitable purposes at their discretion.  Finally, the court suggested that the fund cease soliciting further donations and allow the remaining monies to be depleted to that the relationship between the parties could be terminated.

Should you have any questions relating to charitable trusts or other personal asset protection issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Susan Maya, at SMaya@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, and Attorney Russell Sweeting, at RSweeting@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, in the Maya Murphy office in Westport, Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Trustee Interpretation of Ambiguous Trust Provisions will not be Changed by a Court Without Evidence of a Clear Abuse of Trustee Discretion

Heath v. Heath, CV094044709S, 2012 WL 2477953 (Conn. Super. Ct. June 5, 2012)

In a case before the Superior Court, four trust beneficiaries filed a three-part complaint against the trustees of a trust created by their mother.  The complaint alleged breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and other charges. The trial court ruled that the trustees had properly distributed the trust interests and entered judgment in their favor.

Case Background

In 1953, a trust indenture known as the Hembdt Trust was drafted with assets consisting of royalty interests in oil, gas and mineral rights.  During her lifetime, the settlor and beneficiary of this trust (“the decedent”) married and had ten children.  Upon her death, the terms of the trust provided that the royalty interests would pass to “his or her legal representatives, heirs at law or next of kin in accordance with the provisions of law applicable to the domicile of the deceased beneficiary.”

In 1967, the decedent died. Pursuant to her will, several testamentary trusts were created, including a testamentary trust for the benefit of her husband (“marital trust”) and a trust for her children (“children’s trust”).  The trustees and executors of the decedent’s will determined that the provision in the Hembdt Trust required the trust’s royalty interests to pass into her estate which, in accordance with her will, resulted in these interests being distributed in a 54/46 ratio between the marital trust and the children’s trust.

Legal Representatives of a Trust

The beneficiaries of the children’s trust argued that the entirety of the royalty interest should have been distributed to them as the decedent’s heirs at law because the term “legal representatives” in the Hembdt Trust provision, used under the circumstances provided, could only be interpreted to mean the children of the decedent.  The decedent’s husband, in his capacity as a fiduciary of the trusts, argued that the beneficiaries’ interpretation was inconsistent with the language of the trust instrument and the law.

He argued that the term “legal representatives” was used in conjunction with “heirs at law” and “next of kin;” therefore, the clear intent of the Hembdt Trust provision was that upon the death of the individual beneficiary, his or her interest would pass to: (1) the beneficiary’s legal representatives, which would be the beneficiary’s executors, if the person died testate, to be administered according to the beneficiary’s will, or the beneficiary’s administrators, if the person died intestate and a probate estate was opened; (2) the beneficiary’ heirs at law if the person died intestate and no probate estate was opened; and (3) the beneficiary’s next of kin if there were no heirs at law.

The decedent’s husband further argued that if all three conditions existed, then the distributions would have to be in accordance with Connecticut law, which requires that, when a decedent leaves both a spouse and children, they both inherit.  Finally, the decedent’s husband argued that Connecticut law requires that if a decedent leaves a will, a distribution is made according to the will.   Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-431.  The remaining trustees adopted the arguments of the decedent’s husband.

The Language of a Trust Instrument

According to Connecticut case law, a court’s role in the construction of a trust instrument is to determine the meaning of what the grantor stated in the trust instrument and not to speculate upon what the grantor intended to state in the instrument. Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. v. Lyman, 148 Conn. 273, 278-79, 170 A.2d 130 (1961).  Language in the trust instrument is to be accorded its common, natural and ordinary meaning and usage.  WE 470 Murdock, LLC v. Cosmos Real Estate, LLC, 109 Conn.App. 605, 609, 952 A.2d 106, cert. denied, 289 Conn. 938, 958 A.2d 1248 (2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Furthermore, no language will be construed as to remove a trustee from equitable control; courts may intervene only to protect and preserve the trust in circumstances where the trustees have abused their discretion.  Gimbel v. Bernard F. & Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, Inc., 166 Conn. 21, 34, 347 A.2d 81 (1974)

The Court’s Decision

Connecticut case law has established that the phrase “legal representatives” in a testamentary instrument is an ambiguous or equivocal term. Smith v. Groton, 147 Conn. 272, 274–75, 160 A.2d 262 (1960).   In interpreting the trust provisions, the court determined that the language did not permit the decedent’s beneficial interest to pass to each of the three categories (“legal representatives, heirs at law and next of kin”) or to pass to different recipients depending on an exercise of discretion (“legal representatives, or heirs at law, or next of kin”).

For that reason, the court found that the terms “legal representatives,” “heirs at law,” and “next of kin” did not conflict and that the provision required that the decedent’s beneficial interest pass to the recipients in the order clearly listed the trust instrument.  Therefore, the trustees did not abuse their discretion in determining that the royalty interests passed to the executors, as the decedent’s legal representatives, to be distributed to the marital trust and children’s trust in accordance with the decedent’s will.

Because the trial court did not find that the trustees of the decedent’s trusts abused their discretion, the court refused to upset their determination of how the decedent’s interests should be distributed.

Should you have any questions relating to wills, trusts, estates and other personal asset protection issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Susan Maya, at SMaya@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, and Attorney Russell Sweeting, at RSweeting@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, in the Maya Murphy office in Westport, Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Probate Courts Hearing a Conservator’s Application to Transfer Income from a Conserved Person’s Estate Must Provide Notice to All Parties Who May Have an Interest in the Estate

Manzo v. Nugent, X04HHDCV105035142S, 2012 WL 1959076 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 8, 2012)

In a case before the Superior Court of Connecticut, a named beneficiary of a will filed an appeal to reverse a probate court order that authorized the conservator of his benefactor to transfer all her assets into trusts.  The conservator brought a motion to dismiss the appeal based on  lack of standing.  The court held that the named beneficiary had standing to file his appeal and denied the motion to dismiss.

Case Details

In January 2008, the probate court appointed John Nugent (“Nugent”) as the conservator of the person and the estate of Josephine Smoron.  In April 2009, the Nugent applied to the probate court to approve the creation and funding of a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust for Ms. Smoron.  At the time of the May 2009 probate court hearing, Samuel Manzo (“Manzo”) was a named beneficiary under Ms. Smoron’s will.

The probate court approved Nugent’s application and authorized the creation and funding of the two trusts; however, the hearing was held without providing notice to Manzo or other named beneficiaries of Ms. Smoron’s will.  Nugent, in his capacity as conservator, established and funded the trusts by quitclaiming real property owned by Ms. Smoron to the irrevocable trust and by depositing over $218,000 of her assets to the revocable trust.  Pursuant to the terms of the trusts, upon Ms. Smoron’s death, the proceeds were to be distributed to three churches, with no provisions for the beneficiaries named under will.  In June 2009, Ms. Smoron died.

Interest in an Estate

Nugent argued that Manzo’s appeal of the probate orders authorizing the creation and funding of Ms. Smoron’s trusts must be dismissed because Manzo was a “mere prospective heir” under Ms. Smoron’s will and, therefore, lacked a sufficient legal interest to challenge the rulings of the probate court.  However, in the instant case, the Superior Court found it to be a provable fact that Manzo was a beneficiary of Ms. Smoron’s will rather than a prospective heir.

Connecticut law specifically requires the probate court to hold a hearing and provide notice to “all parties who may have an interest” in the estate before authorizing a conservator to transfer his conserved person’s property.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-655(e).  The same law further provides that the probate court should also consider the provisions of an existing estate plan before authorizing the conservator to make transfers of income or principal from the estate of the conserved person.

The Superior Court found that, as a named beneficiary under Ms. Smoron’s will at the time of the May 2009 order, Manzo had both an interest in the estate and an interest in ensuring that the probate court considered Ms. Smoron’s will as part of the existing estate plan.  Therefore, Manzo should have received notice of the probate court hearing.

The Court’s Decision

Therefore, the Superior Court held that, as a named beneficiary under the will, Manzo was aggrieved by the May 2009 probate court order, should it be permitted to stand. Pursuant to that order, Nugent not only placed Ms. Smoron’s assets in the trusts, but he also designated three churches as beneficiaries of the trusts upon Ms. Smoron’s death. The court characterized these actions as effectively disinheriting Manzo and nullifying any provisions that had been made for him under Ms. Smoron’s will.  Based these facts, the trial court determined that Manzo was a proper party to invoke the jurisdiction of the court.

The Superior Court denied Nugent’s motion to dismiss and permitted Manzo to go forward in the Superior Court of Connecticut with his appeal of the probate court orders authorizing the creation and funding of trusts for Ms. Smoron’s estate.


Should you have any questions relating to wills, trusts, estate planning or other personal asset protection issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Susan Maya, at SMaya@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, and Attorney Russell Sweeting, at RSweeting@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, in the Maya Murphy office in Westport, Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Property Conveyance May Satisfy the Statute of Frauds Requirement to Create a Trust

Ciccaglione v. Stewart, CV074008040, 2012 WL 671933 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 8, 2012)

In a case before the Connecticut Superior Court, two daughters sought a declaratory judgment as to the validity of an unsigned document purporting to be their deceased mother’s trust agreement and quiet title to a contested piece of real estate.  The daughters contended that the trustees held the contested property in fee simple; therefore, the real estate was not part of the mother’s estate to be distributed in accordance with her will.  The trial court concluded that the trust was validly created and the contested real property was a trust asset.

Case Background

The original executed copy of the mother’s 2004 trust agreement could not be found after her death.  Two of her daughters sought a court judgment declaring that an unsigned copy of their mother’s trust agreement created a valid and enforceable inter vivos trust, They contended that an irrevocable trust had been created in August 2004 when their mother executed and recorded the warranty deed that conveyed the contested property to the trust because the conveyance and circumstances surrounding it manifested their mother’s clear intent to create that trust.

The remaining heirs denied these allegations and raised several special defenses, including that the unsigned trust agreement did not comply with the Statute of Frauds, that the deed was invalid, that one or both of the daughters exerted undue influence over their mother and that their mother lacked capacity when she created the trust.

Components of a Valid and Enforceable Trust

The requisite elements of a valid and enforceable trust are: (1) a trustee, who holds the trust property and is subject to duties to deal with it for the benefit of one or more others; (2) one or more beneficiaries, to whom and for whose benefit the trustee owes the duties with respect to the trust property; and (3) trust property, which is held by the trustee for the beneficiaries.  Goytizolo v. Moore, 27 Conn.App. 22, 25, 604 A.2d 362 (1992).

According to the Restatement of Trusts, if the owner of property declares himself to be the trustee of the property or transfers it “in trust” for a named person, such writing sufficiently demonstrates the purpose of the trust to satisfy the writing requirement of the Statute of Frauds.  Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 46 cmt. (a) (1959).

The Inter Vivos Trust

The daughters alleged that the August 2004 warranty deed conveying the contested property to their mother’s inter vivos trust satisfied the Statute of Frauds because it set forth the trust property, the beneficiaries and the purpose of the trust with reasonable definiteness. Because the warranty deed transferred the property from the mother individually to the inter vivos trust, it was as if the property was transferred “in trust” for a named person and the warranty deed was a declaration of a passive trust.  They also contended that because the mother signed the warranty deed as trustee, she was declaring herself to be the trustee of the property for the beneficiaries of the inter vivos trust.

Although the court concluded that the execution of the warranty deed by itself funded rather than created the inter vivos trust, the court also concluded that the warranty deed was sufficient evidence to satisfy the Statute of Frauds.  The deed was a writing signed by the mother demonstrating that she manifested an intent to create the trust and impose the duty of a trustee upon herself.

Additional testimony from witnesses at the trial supported the court’s conclusion that the mother executed the trust agreement, along with her will and the warranty deed, in August 2004 as part of her overall testamentary plan and that unsigned copy of the trust agreement submitted by the two daughters was a true copy of the agreement which established the terms of the agreement.

Defective Deeds

The heirs contesting the trust alleged that the August 2004 warranty deed conveying the contested property to the mother’s inter vivos trust was invalid because the deed named the trust rather than the trustee as the grantee of the property.  According to the Connecticut Standards of Title, a grantee of real property must be in existence and have capacity to take and hold legal title to land at the time of the conveyance.  A trust does not have such capacity:  the trustee, or other fiduciary of the trust, is the appropriate grantee.  See Connecticut Bar Association, Connecticut Standards of Title (1999), standard 7.1, comments 1 and 4.

Connecticut law, however, provides that deeds with certain defects are considered to be valid unless an action challenging the deed and a lis pendens are recorded in the town land records within two years of recording the defective instrument.  Conn. Gen. Stat.  § 47-36aa(a).  This statute covers defective deeds made to grantees that are not recognized by law as having the capacity to take or hold an interest in real property.  Conn. Gen. Stat.  § 47-36aa(a)(4).

Because the heirs contesting the trust did not file an action challenging the validity of the deed within two years of its recording, the trial court concluded that the August 2004 warranty deed had been validated by the operation of the statute, which confirmed the conveyance to the grantee and any subsequent transfers of the interest by the grantee to any subsequent transferees.

Undue Influence

The heirs contesting the trust alleged that the trust was void because one or both of the two daughters seeking to enforce the trust exerted undue influence over their mother during its making.  Undue influence is the exercise of sufficient control over a person in an attempt to destroy his free agency and constrain him to do something other than what he would do under normal circumstances.

Connecticut case law sets out four elements necessary for a finding of undue influence:  (1) a person who is subject to influence, (2) an opportunity to exert undue influence, (3) a disposition to exert undue influence, and (4) a result indicating undue influence. Gengaro v. New Haven, 118 Conn.App. 642, 649–50, 984 A.2d 1133 (2009) (internal quotations omitted); see also Dinan v. Marchand, 279 Conn. 558, 560, fn.1 (2006).

The heirs contesting the trust argued that their mother was susceptible to undue influence because of her medical condition and fear of being placed in a nursing home.  They also alleged that one or both of the daughters who were seeking to enforce the trust were in a position to influence her because they had medical and financial control over their mother.  At least one of the two daughters, who was the oldest female in a family of eleven, had the disposition to exert such influence.

Finally, they argued that the terms of the trust revealed the extent of that influence because the terms benefitted the daughters seeking to enforce the trust.  However, based on the testimony of witnesses at trial, the court concluded that the mother was not under any undue influence when she executed the trust and other testamentary documents in August 2004.

Lack of Capacity

Finally, the heirs contesting the trust argued that the trust agreement was void due to their mother’s lack of capacity.  Specifically, they argued that there was evidence that their mother did not understand the terms of the trust agreement because when she later wanted to sell the contested property, she discovered that she could not. The mother had medical and neurological conditions, including a stroke in 2003 and terminal cancer in 2006; therefore, she was preoccupied with her health and was concerned about being placed in a nursing home. Furthermore, she loved all of her children and wanted them to be treated equally and fairly, but the terms of the trust are unfair to some of the beneficiaries.

Testamentary Capacity Under Connecticut Law

Capacity to make a trust is the same as the capacity to make a will or other testamentary instrument. Connecticut statutory law generally requires that at testator be “any person eighteen years of age or older, and of sound mind.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-250.  Case law establishes the test for testamentary capacity as “whether the testator had mind and memory sound enough to know and understand the business upon which he was engaged at the time of execution.”  City National Bank and Trust Co.’s Appeal, 145 Conn. 518, 521, 144 A.2d 338 (1958).  Testamentary capacity is assessed at the time the instrument is executed, and not on the testator’s ability years later to remember the contents of the instrument.

Therefore, based on testimony from several witnesses at trial, the court concluded that the mother had sufficient testamentary capacity to create an enforceable inter vivos trust at the same time she created her other testamentary documents.  Furthermore, the mother’s expressed wishes were to preserve her property for her children and grandchildren; the court concluded that the trust was the most plausible legal means to carry out these wishes.

The Court’s Decision

The trial court concluded that the trust was validly created and the contested real property was a trust asset.  Therefore, the unsigned copy of the trust was an expression of the intent of the mother, in her capacity as grantor, and was a valid and enforceable trust instrument.


Should you have any questions relating to trusts, estates and other personal asset protection issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Susan Maya, at SMaya@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, and Attorney Russell Sweeting, at RSweeting@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, in the Maya Murphy office in Westport, Fairfield County, Connecticut.