Sweeney v. Friends of Hammonasset
Because Connecticut General Statutes §52-557m provides greater protections to a director, officer or trustee of a nonprofit organization than the Volunteer Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §14502(a), by not containing any of the exceptions or exemptions found in the federal act, it was not pre-empted by the act. Michael Sweeney attended an "Owl Prowl" at the Hammonasset Beach State Park, a park owned and operated by the state. During a tour led by a volunteer with the Friends of Hammonasset, a nonprofit volunteer organization, Sweeney slipped and fell on ice severely breaking his wrist. He brought suit against Friends and its president, Deana Becker, a volunteer. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Sweeney appealed claiming, first, that the trial court improperly granted the defendants' motion as to the first count of his complaint after improperly construing that count as sounding in premises liability. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The trial court did not improperly fail to recognize the count as sounding in ordinary negligence or negligence under 2 Restatement (Second), Torts §324 A (1965). Because the plaintiff's allegations stemmed from an injury caused by a dangerous condition on the premises, liability was dependent upon possession and control of the dangerous premises. As a matter of law, the defendants could not be found negligent because they did not have possession or control of the premises, a state park. The plaintiff also claimed that the court improperly granted summary judgment for Becker on the second count after concluding that pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §14502(a), C.G.S. §52-557m provided Becker with statutory immunity in her capacity as president of Friends. The plaintiff argued that C.G.S. §52-557m did not apply because he did not allege that Becker was negligent in her policy or decision making activities, but rather in her supervising, training and oversight activities as president. However, when the statutorily undefined phrase "decision making responsibility" used in C.G.S. §52-557m, is examined in conjunction with the dictionary definitions of supervise, oversee, and train, the allegations of the complaint describe conduct falling squarely within Becker's decision making responsibilities. Further, C.G.S. §52-557m provides greater protections for such volunteers than the federal act and was not pre-empted by the act.