HERBERT HICKS v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT et al., SC 18361
Judicial District of New London
Sovereign Immunity; Damages; Interest; Whether Sovereign Immunity Bars Claims for Postjudgment Interest Against the State in Motor Vehicle Negligence Actions. The plaintiff brought this action against the state pursuant to General Statutes § 52-556, which provides an exception to the state's sovereign immunity and permits a cause of action against the state when any person is injured by a state employee's negligence when operating a motor vehicle. On October 3, 2005, after trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $472,048.11. The state appealed, and the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. Thereafter, on September 16, 2008, the state tendered a check to the plaintiff for the amount of the judgment. On September 23, 2008, the plaintiff filed a motion requesting postjudgment interest pursuant to General Statutes § 37-3b. The state filed an objection, arguing that sovereign immunity precludes the court from assessing postjudgment interest against the state. The trial court observed that in Babes v. Bennett, 247 Conn. 256 (1998), the Supreme Court held that, when the legislature waived sovereign immunity for a state employee's negligent operation of a motor vehicle in 1927 by enacting § 52-556, it subjected the state to the substantive rules governing negligence actions at that time. Noting that statutory postjudgment interest is considered an element of damages, the trial court concluded that the statutory right to postjudgment interest, now codified in § 37-3b, was a substantive rule and that it was applicable to negligence cases at the time of the enactment of § 52-556. Accordingly, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for postjudgment interest, ruling that the state was subject to § 37-3b in actions brought under § 52-556. On appeal, the state claims that the trial court, in awarding the plaintiff postjudgment interest under § 37-3b, failed to apply controlling Supreme Court precedent requiring statutory waivers of sovereign immunity to be narrowly construed. The state maintains that, if § 37-3b and § 52-556 are interpreted in accordance with that precedent, the trial court's judgment would have to be reversed because there is nothing in the language of either statute that clearly and unequivocally waives the state's sovereign immunity from claims for postjudgment interest.