WILLIE MILLS v. COMMISSIONER OF TRANSPORTATION et al., SC 19163
Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford
Highway Defects; Sovereign Immunity; Whether Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over General Statutes § 13a-144 Highway Defect Claim Because Plaintiff Failed to Provide Notice of his Intent to File a Claim Against the State. The plaintiff was injured when his motorcycle struck a large pothole in Milford. After the plaintiff sent a notice letter to the state commissioner of transportation (commissioner) describing the details of the accident, he brought this action against the commissioner, claiming that his injuries were caused by a highway defect. The commissioner filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred the highway defect claim because the plaintiff failed to comply with the notice requirements of the highway defect statute, General Statutes § 13a-144. Section 13a-144 provides that no action for injuries caused by a defective highway “shall be brought . . . unless notice of such injury . . . has been given in writing within ninety days thereafter to the commissioner.” The trial court denied the motion, and the commissioner appealed, contending that the plaintiff’s notice letter was inadequate. The Appellate Court (142 Conn. App. 785) agreed, finding that the letter failed to satisfy the notice requirements of § 13a-144. The Appellate Court noted that, in Warkentin v. Burns, 223 Conn. 14, 18 (1992), the Supreme Court interpreted § 13a-144 as requiring that injured parties notify the commissioner that they have filed or intend to file a claim against the state for damages caused by a highway defect. The Appellate Court then determined that, although the notice letter in the present case repeatedly stated that the plaintiff intended to sue the city of Milford, it failed to allege that he had filed or intended to file a claim against the state. The court opined that the mere fact that the notice letter provided ample details about the accident itself did not excuse the plaintiff from adhering to all of the notice requirements of § 13a-144, which, the court emphasized, must be strictly construed. Accordingly, the court concluded that, because the notice letter did not satisfy the requirement of § 13a-144 that the plaintiff inform the commissioner that he had filed or intended to file a claim against the state, the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred the plaintiff’s highway defect claim. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the highway defect claim because the plaintiff’s § 13a-144 notice was inadequate.