University of Vermont AAHS

Keeney v. Mystic Valley Hunt

Connecticut Superior Court
2003 WL 22792318
November 13, 2003

Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Keeney brought suit on behalf of her daughter, who was injured while taking a riding lesson at defendant Mystic Valley Hunt’s stables.  The defendant sought to bring the injured child’s father into the lawsuit because he signed a release of liability form that promised to indemnify defendant for any injuries suffered by his daughter.

In this trial court opinion, the court denies the defendant’s request to bring the father into the lawsuit.  The doctrine of parental immunity says that a minor child cannot sue his or her parent for injuries the parent might have inflicted because that would disrupt the family relationship.  That doctrine applies here as well, since if the indemnification clause is enforced it would mean that any judgment the child obtains against the defendant would have to be paid by the child’s father.  Therefore, the indemnification clause cannot be enforced.

Text of Opinion

 On May 8, 2002, Teresa Keeney filed a complaint alleging negligence on behalf of her minor daughter, Heather Keeney, against Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc. Teresa Keeney seeks to recover damages for injuries that her daughter purportedly sustained while receiving horseback riding lessons at Mystic Valley's stables. Teresa Keeney alleges that during Heather Keeney's lesson on August 4, 2001, the instructors told her to remove her feet from the stirrups and kick the horse that she was riding on its side. This caused the horse to lunge forward, and eventually throw her from the saddle. As a result, Heather Keeney suffered a fracture to her right arm, required surgery, and has significant scarring. Heather Keeney's injuries are permanent, and will require that she receive future medical care.

 On June 5, 2003, Mystic Valley filed a motion to implead Bradley Keeney, Heather Keeney's father, accompanied by a supporting memorandum. Mystic Valley argues that Bradley Keeney contractually agreed to indemnify Mystic Valley for all expenses, costs, fees and awards related to any claims for personal injury resulting from his daughter's use of its facilities. On June 18, 2003, Teresa Keeney filed an objection to Mystic Valley's motion to implead Bradley Keeney, accompanied by a supporting memorandum. She contends that the parental immunity doctrine bars any claim against a parent arising out of injury to a minor child. Teresa Keeney also asserts that Mystic Valley's motion is untimely because a cause of action for indemnification does not accrue until after the plaintiff in the underlying action obtains a judgment against the defendant. This court need not reach a determination on timeliness because the court denies Mystic Valley's motion to implead on separate grounds.


 General Statutes § 52‑102a(a) provides in pertinent part: "A defendant in any civil action may move the court for permission as a third‑party plaintiff to serve a writ, summons and complaint upon a person not a party to the action who is or may be liable to him for all or part of the plaintiff's claim against him ... [P]ermission may be granted by the court if, in its discretion, it deems that the granting of the motion will not unduly delay the trial of the action nor work an injustice upon the plaintiff or the party sought to be impleaded." See also Practice Book § 10‑11. "The defendant [does] not have a statutory right to implead a third party; the statute commits the decision of such motions to the sound discretion of the trial court." Cupina v. Bernklau, 17 Conn.App. 159, 164, 551 A.2d 37 (1988).

 "The object of the [impleader] rule [is] to facilitate litigation, to save costs, to bring all of the litigants into one proceeding, and to dispose of an entire matter without the expense of many suits and many trials." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Beaudoin v. Town Oil Co., 207 Conn. 575, 588, 542 A.2d 1124 (1988). "An impleading party has the burden of alleging facts sufficient to bring an action within the requirements of the [impleader] statute ... As a fundamental threshold requirement, a third party plaintiff must allege that the third party defendant is or may be liable to the third party plaintiff for all or part of the plaintiff's claim against him." (Citation omitted.) Commissioner v. Lake Phipps Land Owners Corp., 3 Conn.App. 100, 102, 485 A.2d 580 (1985).

 "[F]or impleader to be proper, the third‑party's liability must depend upon the outcome of the main claim, and the third‑party claim must be an attempt to pass on to the third‑party all or part of the liability asserted against the defendant." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Security Capital Management, Inc. v. DeMonica, Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford‑ Norwalk at Stamford, Docket No. CV 89 0101795 (June 12, 1990, Lewis, J.) (1 Conn. L. Rptr. 735, 737). In this instance, the defendant attempts to pass liability to Bradley Keeney on an indemnity theory.

 "[I]ndemnity involves a claim for reimbursement in full from one on whom primary liability is claimed to rest ..." Kyrtatas v. Stop & Shop, Inc., 205 Conn. 694, 701, 535 A.2d 357 (1988). Connecticut recognizes indemnification by contract. Burr v. Lichtenheim, 190 Conn. 351, 460 A.2d 1290 (1983). "[A] party is entitled to indemnification, in the absence of a contract to indemnify, only upon proving that the party against whom indemnification is sought either dishonored a contractual provision or engaged in some tortious conduct." Burkert v. Petrol Plus of Naugatuck, Inc., 216 Conn. 65, 74, 579 A.2d 26 (1990). The terms of the contract control the terms of indemnification. Cirrito v. Turner Construction Co., 189 Conn. 701, 706‑07, 458 A.2d 678 (1983).

 In this instance, Mystic Valley argues that impleader is proper because Bradley Keeney contractually agreed to indemnify it. Teresa Keeney objects to Mystic Valley's motion, asserting that the parental immunity doctrine bars Bradley Keeney's participation in this action. This court agrees with Teresa Keeney's position.

 The doctrine of parental immunity, "bars an unemancipated minor from suing his or her parents for personal injuries ... Under this doctrine a parent is not liable civilly to his child for personal injury inflicted during [the child's] minority ..." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Crotta v. Home Depot, Inc., 249 Conn. 634, 638, 732 A.2d 767 (1999). Parental immunity is aimed at protecting the relationship between parent and child. Squeglia v. Squeglia, 234 Conn. 259, 265, 661 A.2d 1007 (1995).

 "Few things could ... widen the breach between parent and child further than the bringing of an action at law for personal injuries by a minor child against the parent. Such unseemly family discord is injurious to the public welfare." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Ascuitto v. Farricielli, 244 Conn. 692, 698, 711 A.2d 708 (1998). "It is artificial to separate the parent and child as economic entities by the assertion that the recovery of the nonparent defendant from the negligent parent does not technically diminish the injured child's recovery. The reality of the family is that, except in cases of great wealth, it is a single economic unit and recovery by a third party against the parent ultimately diminishes the value of the child's recovery." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Crotta v. Home Depot, Inc., supra, 249 Conn. at 644.

 In Crotta v. Home Depot, Inc., supra, 249 Conn. at 634, our Supreme Court considered the parental immunity doctrine in the context of a motion to implead an injured child's father as a third‑party defendant. In that case, the minor plaintiff suffered injuries after falling from a shopping cart while he and his father were at Home Depot. Id., at 636. The child's mother brought an action on behalf of her son, seeking damages from both the manufacturer of the shopping cart and the store. Id. Both defendants sought to implead the child's father, asserting that they had a right to indemnify because he negligently supervised the child. Id., at 637. The court held: "[T]he doctrine of parental immunity operates to preclude the parent of a minor plaintiff from being joined as a third party defendant for purposes of apportionment of liability, contribution or indemnification based on the parent's allegedly negligent supervision of the minor plaintiff." Id., at 644‑45.

 While Crotta is based on a tort law theory of negligent supervision, Mystic Valley seeks to implead Bradley Keeney pursuant to an alleged contractual agreement. The Connecticut Supreme Court recently addressed whether the proprietor of a recreational facility may be contractually released from liability for its own future negligence. Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts of Connecticut, 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827 (2003). In that case, the court held: "[A] party cannot be released from liability for injuries resulting from its future negligence in the absence of language that expressly so provides." Id., at 643. In discussing whether such an contract would be contrary to public policy, however, the court stated: "[W]e do not reach the issue of whether a well drafted agreement purporting to have such an effect would be enforceable." Id., at 640. Under these facts, we find that it is not.

 Here, the agreement entered between Mystic Valley and Bradley Keeney undertakes to expressly release the defendant from liability for its own negligence. [FN1] If this court permits the motion to implead pursuant to the indemnification contract, and Mystic Valley is found liable, Heater Keeney would ultimately recover damages for her personal injuries from her father. This is precisely the type of scenario that the parental immunity doctrine is designed to prevent. Furthermore, previous parental immunity cases have involved allegations that the parent was directly negligent, and our Supreme Court still precluded recovery. See Ascuitto v. Farricielli, supra, 244 Conn. at 711 (doctrine of parental immunity barred mother of minor child from claiming that her ex‑husband negligently caused fire in home resulting in injuries to the child). This court can hardly justify putting a minor child in position to hold a parent liable for the purported negligence of a third party.

FN1. See Memorandum in Support of the Defendant's Motion to Implead Third Party Defendant, Exhibit A. The agreement states that Bradley Keeney agrees to "Indemnify and save harmless, Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc./ Stonington Farms, Inc., its officers, agents, employees or servants against any and all loss or expense ... arising out of the or in consequence of the use of horses or equipment or use of or presence at the Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc./Stonington Farms, Inc., whether such injuries to persons or damage to property are due or claimed to be due to any negligence of the Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc./Stonington Farms, Inc., its officers, agents, employees, independent contractors or servants or any other person."

 In light of the foregoing, Mystic Valley's motion to implead Bradley Keeney as a third‑party defendant is denied.

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