NEWS: A Manhattan woman has lost a lawsuit against her young nephew over injuries stemming from an “exuberant” hug.
On 13 October 2015 the Connecticut Post published an article headlined “8-Year-Old Westport Boy on Trial for Exuberance” which was subsequently aggregated to multiple news outlets across the U.S.
According to that article, a 54-year-old Manhattan woman named Jennifer Connell is suing her nephew, Sean Tarala (now 12), over a broken wrist she sustained during an “exuberant hug” at an 18 March 2011 birthday party in Westport:
The boy had gotten his first two-wheeler for his birthday, and was joyfully riding the bright-red bike around and around the home, according to testimony.
But when he spotted Connell, he dropped the new bicycle on the ground, exclaiming, “Auntie Jen, Auntie Jen.”
“All of a sudden he was there in the air, I had to catch him and we tumbled onto the ground,” Connell testified of her encounter with the 50-pound boy. “I remember him shouting, ‘Auntie Jen I love you,’ and there he was flying at me.”
The article included purported excerpts from the lawsuit (first filed in March 2013), one of which quoted Connell as saying:
I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate.
The article reported that Sean had appeared in court with his father, Michael Tarala, and that his mother, Lisa Tarala, died in 2014 (Tarala’s death occurred after the suit was filed, but before the October 2015 court date). The paper quoted the suit’s core claims as being that:
The injuries, losses and harms to the plaintiff were caused by the negligence and carelessness of the minor defendant in that a reasonable eight years old under those circumstances would know or should have known that a forceful greeting such as the one delivered by the defendant to the plaintiff could cause the harms and losses suffered by the plaintiff.
Multiple news sources picked up the claim, but all such news reports linked back to the Connecticut Post‘s 13 October 2015 article.
A search of Connecticut court records by party name returned a case that appeared to match Connell’s suit, in which Sean Tarala was named as a defendant, but details of that case are “currently disabled due to Jury Selection and Trial”:
With respect to the whether a child of age twelve could be sued for alleged negligence that occurred when he was eight years old, it appears Connecticut state law [PDF] provides for scenarios under which “a minor under the age of sixteen years” could be party to a suit (described as “a question of fact for the trier”):
In all actions for recovery of damages for injury to person or property, in which the plaintiff or defendant was a minor under sixteen years of age at the time such cause of action arose, it shall be a question of fact to be submitted to the judge or jury to determine whether or not such minor plaintiff or minor defendant was in the exercise of due care, when there is a violation of statutory duty by such plaintiff or defendant.
The above-linked document included a relevant excerpt from Overlock v. Ruedemann (1960):
A minor is liable for injuries negligently inflicted by him upon another … It is true that in determining the negligence of a minor the law applies to him a standard of conduct which will vary according to his age, judgment and experience, but the law does not grant him a complete immunity from liability for his torts, even in negligence.
The Connecticut Post reported that Tarala was listed as the sole defendant in the suit, and that Connell sought $127,000 in damages. As the elder Tarala was not named as a party in the case, it appears the 12-year-old defendant would be solely liable should a judgment favor Connell. Commenters on social media speculated that Connell’s suit against Terala was a possibly the only legal route to obtain relief under the Teralas’ homeowners’ insurance policy.
Update: On 13 October 2015, a jury of six found Terala not liable for Connell’s injuries.
A Connecticut jury on Tuesday rejected a woman’s bid to sue her 12-year-old nephew for injuries she says she suffered from his exuberant greeting at his birthday party four years ago.
The Connecticut Post reports that the six-member jury found that the boy was not liable. The newspaper reported that she ignored shouted requests for comment as she passed reporters outside the courthouse.
On 14 October 2015 Connell and her lawyers stated that the case was “meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case,” the New York Post reported:
Connell later claimed that even though he was a “very loving, sensitive” child, he still needed to be held accountable for what he did.
But her lawyers walked back those statements on Wednesday — saying she “was never looking for money” and had “no choice” but to sue the boy in 2013 because her insurance company was only willing to fork over $1 to help pay for her medical treatment.
Since Connecticut law states that people who file injury claims on their insurance must take the responsible party to court, Connell was ultimately obligated to file a lawsuit against Sean, her lawyers said.
“She didn’t want to do this anymore than anyone else would. But her hand was forced by the insurance company,” her attorneys said in a statement. “We are disappointed in the outcome, but we understand the verdict.”