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Connecticut Supreme Court Finds No Duty to Anticipate Rear-End Accident – Sic v. Nunan

By November 7, 2012July 17th, 2019Auto Accidents

As a Missouri motor vehicle accident lawyer, I tell my clients that every driver has a legal duty to be careful on the road. However, as a general rule, the law does not hold people responsible for accidents that were not reasonably foreseeable. In Sic v. Nunan, the Connecticut Supreme Court wrestled with the question of whether a driver who was rear-ended had a duty to foresee that rear-end accident, and turn his wheels so that the rear-end crash wouldn’t push his car into the path of an oncoming car. Michael Nunan was lawfully stopped in a left turn lane, waiting to make a turn, when Jessica Thoma’s vehicle struck his from behind. The crash pushed Nunan into a vehicle operated by Marie Sic, who sued Nunan for failing to keep his wheels straight as he waited to turn. The lower courts disagreed on whether he had a duty to do this, but the high court ultimately said no.
Sic suffered serious and permanent injuries as a result of the 2007 crash in Hebron, Conn. Despite her role in the crash, Thoma was not a party to the lawsuit. Rather, Sic alleged that Nunan was negligent in stopping his vehicle in a way that faced oncoming traffic rather than straight ahead, and in turning his wheels to the left. The trial court granted summary judgment for Nunan, saying he had no duty to defend against the possibility that he would be rear-ended. The court observed that drivers are entitled to assume that other people are driving safely, and that no law required Nunan to turn his wheels the way Sic requested. Sic appealed, and the Connecticut Appellate Court made a divided ruling reversing summary judgment. The majority found that because all drivers have a duty of reasonable care, a jury should have considered Sic’s arguments. The dissent argued that Sic’s claims failed to meet the foreseeability prong or the public policy prong of Connecticut’s test for a duty of care.
Nunan appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the appeals court considered the wrong question. Rather than examine the general duty of reasonable care, he said, it should have considered whether he owed Sic the specific duty to keep his wheels straight. He also argued that there was no duty because Thoma’s rear-end crash was not foreseeable, and that public policy is against making new law requiring wheels to be turned in a certain direction. In looking at duty, the high court looked into whether a reasonable person in Nunan’s position would be able to anticipate being rear-ended and pushed into oncoming traffic—and said no. Significantly, it said, Connecticut permits drivers to assume that the drivers around them will obey the law. Thus, it concluded that a reasonable driver is not required to anticipate the kind of accident that took place. And even if the crash is foreseeable, the court said, public policy is against creating a duty to anticipate it, because it would create many more avenues of liability for drivers, but no law-making body has seen fit to create such a law. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court.
As a southern Illinois car crash attorney, I sympathize with Sic. Though the court didn’t detail her injuries, it said enough to suggest that she is likely dealing with a permanent disability. Such disabilities are life-changing and catastrophic, and they are also frequently expensive. For people in this position, it’s vital to be able to recover financial compensation from the driver at fault. However, the Connecticut high court determined that state law is against assigning fault to someone like Nunan, and because he was driving in a legal and ordinary manner, I sympathize with him as well. A safer legal option would be to hold Thoma legally liable for causing the crash (although her insurance may be insufficient). As a St. Louis auto accident lawyer, I explore all legally viable avenues to payment for clients who are dealing with catastrophic injuries.

If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries because of another driver’s carelessness, you may be able to collect financial compensation for your injuries and damages. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400.
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