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Connecticut Supreme Court considers fatal falling log case

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently addressed a wrongful death lawsuit for a fatal pedestrian accident involving a flying log that crashed into the decedent while a state highway crew was cutting down a tree. The court reviewed the award of a $1.3 million verdict for the victim's family. Crews placed warning cones 83 feet south and 100 north of the tree even though industry standards for workers only required their placement at 55 feet. The victim, however, approached the work-site and stood within 30 feet past the southern cone.

A branch was cut from the remaining 25-foot high tree and fell on a limb that was cut earlier and was laying on the ground. From being hit, that limb was projected into the air and struck the decedent's forehead. The victim then hit the back of his head when he fell on the sidewalk. He died from being struck by the limb or hitting his head on the sidewalk.

The court rejected arguments that the state assumed greater responsibility for the accident by placing the cones further than industry standards for this work. It also rejected the defendant's arguments that it met the standard of care for this work by meeting industry standards by placing the cones in a protected work zone that was at least twice the size of the 25-foot tree being cut.

The Court ruled that industry standards may be considered but are not conclusive on the standard of care in a civil negligence case. Moreover, these standards were designed for the protection of workers and not pedestrians.

The trial court should consider other factors, such as the position of the victim compared to the distance required by industry standards, the time that the decedent was allowed in the work zone and whether he should have been asked to leave, whether workers had to know the exact distances for a protected work zone and the precise distances in this case.

As this case demonstrates, compensation is sought to provide compensation for victims of negligence and, on occasion, to deter future negligent behavior. Victims of pedestrian accidents and their families may need to get more information to help assure that their rights to just damages are maintained in a lawsuit.

Source: State of Connecticut, Judicial Branch, "McDermott v. State of Connecticut (SC 19221, April 28, 2015)," Retrieved May 1, 2015

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