RONALD RAWLS v. PROGRESSIVE NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY, SC 18855
Judicial District of Fairfield
Negligence; Whether Plaintiff Failed to Prove that Driver who Rear-Ended Plaintiff's Vehicle was Negligent. In 2006, a motor vehicle that was being driven by Zabian Bailey collided with the rear of the plaintiff's vehicle, which was stopped at a traffic light. The plaintiff subsequently brought this action against the defendant insurance company, seeking underinsured motorist benefits. After the plaintiff presented his case, the defendant moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the plaintiff had failed to establish that Bailey was negligent and that his negligence was the proximate cause of the accident. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant subsequently moved to set aside the verdict and to have judgment rendered in accordance with its motion for a directed verdict, which the court denied. On appeal, the Appellate Court (130 Conn. App. 502) reversed the trial court's judgment, concluding that the jury could not have reasonably found that Bailey was negligent. It reasoned that the plaintiff did not produce any evidence beyond the fact that his vehicle was struck by Bailey's vehicle. It explained that, although the plaintiff had heard a loud noise at the time of the accident, he did not see Bailey's vehicle strike his vehicle, and he presented no eyewitness testimony regarding the actual circumstances that caused the collision. Mere evidence of a collision, the court opined, is not itself sufficient to establish negligence. It further determined that, even if the heavy damage to the front end of Bailey's car and the rear end of the plaintiff's car suggested that Bailey had been traveling at an excessive rate of speed, the damage was insufficient to establish that Bailey's conduct was the proximate cause of the accident. In light of the foregoing, the Appellate Court concluded that the trial court improperly denied the defendant's motion to set aside the verdict. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court's conclusion was proper.