Collins v. Colonial Penn Ins. Co

In Collins v. Colonial Penn Ins. Co., 257 Conn. 718, 778 A.2d 899 (2001) the trial court declined the defendant's request, and the jury delivered a verdict in the plaintiff's favor. Id., 724-25. On appeal, our Supreme Court held that the trial court improperly had refused to instruct the jury to apportion liability between the identified operator and the insurer. Id., 739. The court reasoned that because the insurer was acting as a surrogate for the unidentified operator, the trial court should have instructed the jury to treat the settlement proceeds paid by the insurer on behalf of the unidentified operator as payments by a joint tortfeasor. Id., 734. The court recognized a distinction between a jury award and a settlement, stating that "a plaintiff's settlement with one tortfeasor in a multitortfeasor context . . . does not necessarily represent a claimant's fair, just and reasonable damages but, rather, represents, in part, the parties' assessments of the risks of litigation." Id., 735. The court went on to note that under 52-572h (n), a plaintiff is entitled to keep any proceeds from a settlement with one of several tortfeasors, but that an award against a remaining tortfeasor should be reduced by the percentage of liability attributable to the settling tortfeasor. Id., 734-35. Accordingly, our Supreme Court held that the trial court should have instructed the jury to assess the percentage of negligence and portion of liability for which the insurer was responsible and to reduce any jury award against the defendant by such percentage. Id., 744. The court stated that "it would be inequitable and contrary to the spirit underlying 52-572h, to allow a plaintiff who does have uninsured motorist coverage and has collected an amount pursuant to a settlement in an automobile accident involving multiple tortfeasors, to deny the principle that each individual tortfeasor pay its fair share or portion of damages sustained." Id., 743. The court went on to state that "in this case there should be no substantive difference for apportionment purposes merely because the other tortfeasor is unidentified, so long as the underinsured carrier is named in the complaint to act as the unidentified driver's surrogate." Id., 743-44.