Northrup v Witkowski, 332 Conn. 158 (2019)

860-249-1361 x 143

In Northrup v. Witkowski, Plaintiffs were Naugatuck residents and homeowners who lived at the bottom of a “bowl“ topographically, and were subject to frequent flooding due to undersized drainage structures. The drainage system was old, it was slated for upsizing, but construction had been delayed due to various factors. Plaintiffs brought suit for negligence and the Defendants moved for summary judgment on based on governmental immunity. Summary judgment was granted by the trial court and affirmed by the Connecticut Appellate Court. The CT Supreme Court has now issued the final affirmance, and judgment has entered in favor of the Town. In its decision the Supreme Court overruled its 1936 decision in Spitzer v. City of Waterbury, which held that maintenance of drainage structures is a mandatory obligation of all municipalities. The Court noted that the statement relied upon in Spitzer was unnecessary to the decision, and that the more recent decisions recognizing that the operation and maintenance of a storm drainage system involves judgment and discretion are the better-reasoned decisions. Plaintiff then argued that they fell within the exception to immunity for identifiable persons subject to imminent harm. The court noted that the plaintiff could not prove imminent harm even though there was evidence the plaintiffs property flooded eight times over the course of four years. The court emphasized that imminent harm does not equate to foreseeability, and that harm will only be considered “imminent” if the probability it will occur is so high as to require immediate action to prevent the harm. Because there was not a high probability that damaging flooding would occur at any particular time, there was no clear and urgent need for action on the part of the Town.