Conn. Supreme Affirms Ruling that Nixed Troopers’ PTSD Claims

By Jim Sams | April 21, 2023

Two state troopers who were struck by a car on an interstate exit ramp cannot collect damages for post traumatic stress disorder, but one of them can recover more money because his trial court award was improperly reduced by the Court of Appeals, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled.

The high court on Wednesday reversed, in part, an appellate panel ruling that deducted the amount that a state trooper recovered through a dram shop claim from his personal injury award, but upheld a finding that rejected the trooper’s PTSD claim.

The court did not decide a larger question as to whether accident victims can ever collect underinsured motorist benefits for PTSD, only that two officers failed to prove that they actually suffered from the disorder. Both the trial court judge and Court of Appeals ruled that uninsured motorist insurance does not cover psychological injuries and also found that testimony from a counselor who treated the officers for PTSD was not credible.

“This court has recently reiterated the proposition that a trier of fact may accept or reject, in whole or in part, the testimony of an expert offered by one party,” the unanimous opinion says, citing two decisions released in 2021.

On the morning of Sept. 1, 2012, state trooper Darren Connolly pulled over a motorist he suspected of driving while intoxicated on Interstate 84 in Hartford. State troopers Scott Menard and Robert Zdrojeski also responded to the scene in separate vehicles.

Connolly and Menard were standing on the side of the Sisson Avenue exit ramp behind the suspected drunk driver’s vehicle when a vehicle driven by William Bowers struck Zdrojeski’s cruiser and pushed it forward. Menard jumped out of the cruiser’s path and landed on his head. Connolly pushed used his right arm to push himself off of the hood of the cruiser as it barreled forward. Both men were transported to a hospital and treated for injuries.

All three troopers filed claims against an uninsured motorist insurance policy that the state carries as a requirement of its collective bargaining agreement with the Connecticut State Police union. They also received workers’ compensation benefits and filed Dram Shop Act claims.

Each of the three officers claimed they developed PTSD as a result of the accident. They were all treated by the same counselor: Jennifer Honen, who is not a psychologist but has a master’s degree in psychological counseling.

The state rejected the claims, contending that uninsured motorist insurance covers only bodily injury, not psychological disorders. The officers filed a lawsuit against the state and also filed claims under the Dram Shop Act, which imposes strict liability on establishments that serve alcohol to intoxicated persons who injure others because of their intoxication.

(Dram shop is an archaic term for a business that sells liquor by the “dram,” which is equal to one-eighth of a fluid ounce.)

In their lawsuit against the state, the officers requested $1 million in damages for Menard and $889,000 for Connolly. The trial court, however, ruled that Honen’s testimony was not credible because she did not do any screening to verify that their claims of emotional distress were legitimate.

The trial court ultimately awarded Menard $172,000 in damages and Connolly $187,000, but reduced those awards by the amount of workers’ compensation benefits that were paid. That left Menard with no damage award and Connolly with only $32,905.67.

Each of the three troopers also were paid an additional $83,333 through settlements of their Dram Shop Act claims. The trial court did not deduct those payments from the award.

Menard and Connolly appealed the decision and the state filed a cross-appeal for all three awards. A three-judge panel ruled that the trial court should have also deducted the amount each officer received through the Dram Shop Act claims. That reduced each trooper’s award to zero.

Menard and Connolly appealed to the Supreme Court.

The high court rejected the state troopers’ argument that the trial court had arbitrarily decided that Honen’s testimony was not credible. Honen had conceded that she had not reviewed any outside sources to confirm the troopers’ accounts of the incident, even though psychologists have standard tests that can be used to determine if a patient is lying. She also admitted that she was unaware that Connolly had given an inaccurate description of the accident by saying he had been “run over.”

The high court affirmed the portion of the ruling that rejected the PTSD claims, but found that the Court of Appeals erred when it reduced the damage awards by the amount of the Dram Shop Act payments received.

The Supreme Court said Dram Shop Act settlements are expressly excluded from the statutory definition of collateral sources for purposes of personal injury lawsuits.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals judgment, in part, and remanded the case with an instruction to reinstate the the trial court’s $32,905.67 award to Connolly.

The high court did not address the question of whether plaintiffs can be compensated for PTSD through uninsured motorist benefits, as the Court of Appeals asserted, leaving a key question unresolved by the case.

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