Perez v. Cumba
In the 1973 case of Merhi v. Becker, the Connecticut Supreme Court considered the defendant's liability to the plaintiff as a social invitee injured by the intentional acts of a third person on its premises and explained that the defendant "as the possessor of the premises on that day, had the duty of exercising reasonable care and control to protect is invitees from dangers which might reasonably be anticipated to arise from the conditions of the premise or the activities taking place there…." Elizabeth Cumba hosted a birthday party for her 15-year-old daughter. Rather than 10 friends, 40 to 50 teenagers showed up. Cumba called other adults for assistance. She intervened in a fight in her basement and, thereafter, observed Hiram Colon, Jr., yelling. She escorted him outside and told him to leave. Six to eight individuals followed them. Eventually, Colon ran past Cumba, confronted the group and, during the ensuing fight, Colon was fatally stabbed. The administratrix of Colon's estate, Marisol Perez, brought suit against Cumba. Following trial, the jury found for Cumba. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the court improperly instructed the jury that to find in her favor, it must find that the defendant possessed notice of the specific dangerous condition that caused the death of her decedent. The Appellate Court agreed and reversed the judgment. The complaint did not advance a traditional defective premises theory of recovery, but one predicated on social invitee liability arising from the intentional acts of a third party, predicated on Merhi v. Becker. The holding of Merhi could not be reconciled with the trial court's instruction to the jury that it could only find the defendant liable if she had actual or constructive notice that a person on her property possessed a knife and was willing to use it to inflict injury on the decedent. Rather, the appropriate inquiry was into, as stated in Merhi, "whether the harm which occurred was of the same general nature as the foreseeable risk created by the defendant's negligence." The trial court's instruction improperly elevated the burden of proof. Additionally, the general verdict rule did not preclude the claim of instructional error. The plaintiff's proposed interrogatories, if used, would have fleshed out the jury's findings. The matter was remanded for a new trial.