Monday, March 12, 2012

The Fatal Impact of Statutes of Limitations

One Connecticut woman found out the hard way that legal time limitations can make or break a case.

In 2003, and again in 2008, Jennie Finkle sued the Town of Watertown and several police officers in connection with the death of her daughter, Barbara Eckert. On September 29, 2002, Barbara was murdered by Mark Tannenbaum, her estranged ex-boyfriend and father of one of her children. The murder came after a lengthy period of domestic violence and a series of run-ins with the Watertown police. After another violent disturbance on September 28, 2002, Tannenbaum was released from custody by the police and almost immediately returned to Barbara’s residence where he murdered her and then killed himself.   Barbara’s mother sued several police offers and the City of Waterbury in civil court for damages, but, because the wrong officers were sued, the original suit was withdrawn and the operative suit was not brought until November 6, 2008. 

The procedural miscalculation occurred when the original case was withdrawn rather than dismissed. This withdrawal made it so that the Eckert could not bring suit under Connecticut’s “wrong party” statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-593, which would have enabled her to overcome the two year statute of limitation issue.

On September 17, 2010, the trial court ruled that even though Finkle’s original action, which was brought in 2003, well within the two year statute of limitations contained in Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-555, the operative case, which was brought in 2008, was barred by the statute of limitations. Finkle appealed the decision, and on Monday, March 12, 2008, the Connecticut Appellate court, in a 3-0 decision, upheld the trial court’s ruling that the suit was filed after the operative two year statute of limitation, and therefore, Finkle was not eligible to pursue negligence claims against the defendants. It is unclear whether Finkle and her attorneys will seek to have the case heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court.