Trujillo v. Chekas
As the Connecticut Supreme Court explained in the 2006 case of State v. George, "a nonconstitutional error is harmless when an appellate court has a fair assurance that the error did not substantially affect the verdict." Jose Trujillo was injured in 2004 while working as a state trooper when the cruiser he was operating collided with a vehicle operated by Angelo Chekas. Trujillo was out of work for two years. He then worked light duty until retiring. He received more than $200,000 in workers' compensation benefits for medical care, lost wages and permanent disability. Trujillo brought this action against the state for uninsured motorist benefits alleging, inter alia, that Chekas was negligent and uninsured. At trial, there was conflicting evidence as to how the accident occurred. Defense counsel asked Trujillo whether he was covered by alternate compensation systems in 2004 and 2005. The trial court overruled the plaintiff's objection to the question and the plaintiff answered affirmatively. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The jury responded negatively to an interrogatory asking whether it found "by a preponderance of the evidence that [the plaintiff] sustained injuries in the accident proximately caused by the negligence of Angelo Chekas?"The court denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence the fact that he had been compensated for lost wages in violation of the collateral source rule. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. Assuming without deciding that the trial court abused its discretion in permitting the question about collateral sources, the Appellate Court concluded that any potential error was harmless. The jury found that the plaintiff had failed to carry his burden of establishing the threshold question of causation, which was contested at trial. The challenged testimony went only to damages, not causation. The trial court noted that the jury may have found Chekas' testimony credible and not that of the plaintiff. Because the Appellate Court had a "fair assurance that the error did not substantially affect the verdict," any error was harmless.