Court: Conn. Widow Can’t Pursue Claim Husband Was Worked To Death

February 27, 2008

The widow of a Connecticut Superior Court judge cannot pursue a lawsuit claiming the state worked her husband to death, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled.

The high court struck down a special act of the legislature, passed in 1994, that would have allowed Joan Kinney to pursue a lawsuit despite failing to meet a legal deadline.

Kinney claims her husband, former Superior Court Judge Frank J. Kinney Jr., died of a heart attack in 1986 because of job-related stress.

At the time, the 53-year-old Kinney was presiding criminal and administrative judge for New Haven, the chief administrative judge for the state court system’s criminal division and chairman of the Commission to Study Alternative Sentences.

The high court ruled that the special legislative act was unconstitutional because it benefited only Kinney.

“If the statute of limitations could be extended for her by special act, why not everyone else?” Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. “Clearly the act applied only to her and provided a benefit only to her.”

Messages were left seeking comment from Kinney’s attorney, Roger Frechette. He had argued that allowing the lawsuit would serve the higher purpose examining the public policy question of whether an employer can be held negligent for overworking an employee, and would encourage “a work ethic of a judge, indeed, any employee of the state of Connecticut.”

Kinney had pursued a workers compensation case, but was rebuffed by the a previous Supreme Court ruling which concluded that judges are not employees within the workers compensation scheme.
Blumenthal said there was nothing preventing Kinney from seeking permission to sue the state while that workers compensation claim was pending.

“If she had brought this action within the statute of limitations, there would be no reason for the special act, and no bar to her raising all the issues as to the overworking of judges, or any other claims of negligence she might have,” he said.

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