The vast majority of tort cases in connecticut arise out of motor vehicle accidents and allege vehicular negligence. These cases are so commonplace as to become routine, and yet it is important to remember that in order for plaintiff to prevail, he or she must prove each of the traditional elements of negligence. Interrogatory discovery can help to develop the facts and identify the witnesses necessary to prove each element.
As in other negligence cases, the plaintiff in an automobile negligence case must establish that defendant’s conduct constituted a breach of a legal duty that was the cause in fact and the proximate cause of actual damages to plaintiff. Each of these elements is discussed in turn below.
- Duty- Legal duties ordinarily arise from affirmative conduct that the defendant undertakes, and in vehicle negligence cases, the duty of due care arises from defendant’s affirmative conduct in operating a motor vehicle. A plaintiff must establish that defendant engaged in this affirmative conduct or was legally liable for the acts of another person under the substantive law. Many of the interrogatories in this chapter seek to discover and establish the facts necessary to prove the affirmative conduct requirement.
- Breach of duty- The defendant breaches his or her obligation to exercise due care when defendant fails to act as would a reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances. Interrogatories directed toward defendant’s conduct seek information necessary to establish plaintiff’s contention that the defendant failed to act as would a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.
- Cause in Fact- Under modern analysis, defendant’s breach of duty is the cause in fact of plaintiff’s damages when the breach is a substantial factor and a material element in bringing about the harm. A plaintiff is thus required to establish that defendant’s negligence met these tests; plaintiff cannot prevail if the injuries would have occurred even without defendant’s negligence. This chapter includes numerous interrogatories pertaining to any person, event, or condition that is alleged by defendant to have contributed to plaintiff’s injuries. Responses to these interrogatories will be directly probative on the issue of whether defendant’s negligence was the cause in fact of plaintiff’s damages.
- Proximate Cause- While the matter has been the subject of continuous academic debate, trial courts tend to identify the issue of “proximate cause” with so-called “intervening forces” and “unforeseeable results.” In practice, the existence of additional forces which combine with defendant’s negligence to cause injury will require the jury to affirmatively determine that defendant’s conduct was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s damages. Similarly, the jury will be instructed on proximate cause when defendant’s negligence, unaccompanied by any intervening forces, causes a result or damage which is arguably “unforeseeable.” You may use the questions in this chapter to elicit information pertaining to these proximate cause issues.
- Damages- Finally, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff to suffer legally cognizable damages. Traditional damage analysis divides the recoverable compensatory damages into (1) special damages, which may be calculated with some precision and which ordinarily represent past or future out-of-pocket losses; and (2) general damages, which are ordinarily awarded for intangible losses such as pain, suffering and humiliation. Specific interrogatories are designed to identify defendant’s contentions regarding general and special damages and to ascertain the known facts regarding these damages.