KAREN DIPIETRO, PPA MICHELLE DIPIETRO v. FARMINGTON SPORTS ARENA, LLC;
KAREN DIPIETRO, PPA MICHELLE DIPIETRO v. DTG, LLC, et al.; SC 18726
Judicial District of Hartford
Negligence; Whether Expert Testimony Required to Establish Standard of Care Applicable to Indoor Soccer Facility; Whether the Appellate Court Properly Applied Plenary Review to Trial Court's Ruling Regarding the Admissibility of Expert Testimony in Connection with a Summary Judgment Motion. The plaintiff brought these negligence actions seeking to recover for injuries sustained by her minor daughter while playing soccer at an indoor soccer facility. The plaintiff alleged that her daughter’s injuries were the result of the defendants' negligence in installing a carpet surface in the facility that was unreasonably dangerous. The trial court consolidated the actions, and the defendants moved for summary judgment. In granting their motions, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s negligence claims were governed by rules of law that required her to establish by expert testimony a standard of care particularly applicable to indoor soccer facilities rather than by the traditional rules of law applicable to premises liability claims. It further determined that the plaintiff's expert witness did not have the personal knowledge about the case that would allow him to render an opinion with substantial value. It thus ruled that the plaintiff failed to present expert testimony to establish the applicable standard of care and the breach thereof. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court (123 Conn. App. 582), which reversed the summary judgment rulings. The Appellate Court rejected the defendants' claim that its review was limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. It noted that, while ordinarily rulings on the admissibility of expert testimony at trial will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion, rulings on motions for summary judgment receive plenary review. It then stated that where, as here, the trial court ruled that expert testimony was inadmissible in the course of summary judgment proceedings, it would be inconsistent with the plenary scope of review to subject a particular subset of the trial court's determinations in those proceedings, namely, the admissibility of an expert's opinion, to the highly deferential abuse of discretion standard. Thereafter, applying plenary review, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court should have fully considered the testimony of the plaintiff's expert. It next determined that the plaintiff's claims rested on the traditional rules applicable to premises liability claims in which the law imposes the standard of care—a duty to maintain premises in a reasonably safe condition. It found that the plaintiff met the requirements of such rules and presented sufficient admissible evidence, by virtue of her expert witness' testimony and affidavit, to avoid summary judgment. The Supreme Court will review the Appellate Court's rulings.