‘Capitol Connection’ – Permission To Be Sued

June 27, 2012

These days, it certainly seems as though lawsuits have become too prevalent in our society. Arguments and disagreements are often solved simply by bringing lawsuits before the courts. Whether stemming from injuries in a car accident, when someone is charged too much under a contract or there is a disagreement over a property line with a neighbor, the possibilities can be endless. Believe it or not, there were over 19.5 million incoming civil caseloads filed in state courts throughout the country in 2009, according to the National Center for State Courts. However, you may not be aware that our state itself is immune from liability and lawsuits.

I recently read about a lawsuit filed by the parents of Jasper Howard against the University of Connecticut after their son was fatally stabbed during an altercation outside of the Student Union in 2009. They are now seeking permission from the state’s Office of the Claims Commissioner to file a $5 million lawsuit, and I thought focusing on the process of suing the state would be an informative subject to share with you this week.

According to the Connecticut General Statutes, the State of Connecticut cannot be sued without its consent for any injury or damage that it may have caused or for the price of any good or service that it may have received. While this may be true, these protections do not limit all lawsuits since there may be cases where there in no other legal or administrative remedy available for a person claiming to be injured or damaged by the state.

In fact, the State of Connecticut has a special agency to process these claims. Established in 1959, the Office of the Claims Commissioner accepts claims from the general public and from inmates regarding unique cases of injury or damage. Once received, the Commissioner may decide when it is “just and equitable” to waive this immunity and possibly make reparations to the claimant. Currently, J. Paul Vance Jr. has served as the Claims Commissioner since 2011 after being appointed by the Governor and approved by the General Assembly.

In recent years, this office’s responsibility has covered high profile cases of those who have been wrongfully convicted and jailed for many years. One of these cases includes Kenneth Ireland, who spent 21 years in prison after being found guilty of rape and murder. In 2009, he was cleared after DNA evidence proved his innocence and another person was arrested and prosecuted for the same crime. This is only one example of what the Claims Commissioner must consider, but since this case is ongoing, it can take several years before a decision whether or not to proceed is ultimately made.

After learning more about this process, I thought it would be an informative subject to discuss this week. Certainly, we will continue to follow these cases. It may be surprising to some that the state can limit its liability and cannot be sued without its consent. While this limitation might save time and money, those who may have been wronged by the state should be able to access to the courts to seek reparation. To learn more about the Office of the Claims Commissioner, please visit their website at www.occ.ct.gov.