Blonski v. Metropolitan District Commission
A political subdivision of the state could be held liable under Connecticut General Statutes §52-557n(a)(1)(B), when its conduct in maintaining a closed gate that injured a bicyclist was inextricably linked to its proprietary function of operating a water supply company. Maribeth Blonski brought suit against the Metropolitan District Commission, alleging severe injuries from riding her bicycle into a pipe gate allegedly negligently maintained by the defendant. The jury found the defendant negligent and that its negligence had an "inherently close connection" to its propriety function of supplying water. It found the plaintiff 30 percent comparatively negligent and awarded economic damages of $150,000 and noneconomic damages of $2.75 million. The defendant appealed from the judgment on the verdict claiming, first, that the court improperly denied its post-verdict motions because no reasonable juror could have found that the alleged negligence had an "inherently close connection" to the defendant's proprietary function of supplying water. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. The jury's finding that the defendant's conduct in installing and maintaining the closed gate was inextricably linked to its propriety water supply operation was supported by evidence that the purpose of the gate was to protect the water supply. Consequently, the defendant could be held liable for its tortious conduct under C.G.S. §52-557n(a)(1)(B). The Court disagreed that a governmental entity cannot be held liable for its allegedly negligent conduct that is inextricably linked to a governmental function, such as providing free recreational opportunities, even if the conduct also had a proprietary purpose. When a governmental entity engages in conduct for its own corporate benefit in a manner that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to others, no reason was perceived why it should not be held responsible for the consequences of that conduct, just as a private person would be. Its liability for proprietary activities performed in a negligent manner does not depend on the injured person's activity. C.G.S. §52-557n (a)(1)(B) focuses on the nature of the defendant's activity. The defendant could not claim immunity under the Recreational Land Use Act, C.G.S. §52-557f. The act grants immunity from negligence claims involving the free recreational use of land exclusively to private persons. It was amended to apply to political subdivisions of the state after the trial court rendered its judgment. Justice Norcott concurred in the result.