New York City

Law Forced Woman to Sue Nephew Over Medical Bills From Birthday Jump: Attorneys

A woman who sued her 12-year-old nephew for $127,000 over injuries she received when he exuberantly greeted her at his birthday party four years ago was forced to go to court over her medical bills, her lawyers said Wednesday as backlash against her on social media sites poured in. 

A jury on Tuesday rejected Jennifer Connell's lawsuit, finding the boy was not liable for her injuries. She had said she broke her wrist when the Westport boy jumped into her arms at his 8th-birthday party, causing her to fall.

Jainchill & Beckert, Connell's law firm, said her nephew's parents' insurance company offered her $1 over the fall, which occurred at their home. She had no choice but to sue to pay medical bills, they said, adding that she has had two surgeries and could face a third, her lawyers said.

"From the start, this was a case ... about one thing: Getting medical bills paid by homeowner's insurance," the law firm said Wednesday in an emailed statement. "Our client was never looking for money from her nephew or his family."

Peter Kochenburger, an insurance law specialist at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said state law typically requires those claiming injury to sue the individual responsible.

"In Connecticut and most states, if you have a claim against someone for negligence, you sue that individual, not the insurance company," he said.

Jennifer Connell appeared on the "Today" show on Thursday, along with her nephew, Sean Tarala. She says she wanted her nephew's parents' homeowners insurance to pay her medical bills, but under Connecticut law she could only sue an individual.

"An individual has to be named, and in this case, because Sean and I had the fall together, I was informed Sean had to be named. I was never comfortable with that," Connell said.

Sean and his aunt sat side by side and said they loved each other on the show.

Connell said she was "shocked" by the backlash.

Sean defended his aunt, saying she would never do anything to hurt him or the family, adding: "Everybody was saying stuff that they didn't know."

Connell's lawsuit said her "injuries, losses and harms" were caused by the negligence and carelessness of the youngster, who should have known his "forceful greeting" would have injured her. A six-member Superior Court jury found that the boy was not liable.

Jainchill & Beckert said Connell, a 54-year-old human resources manager from New York City, is being attacked on social media and has "been through enough."

On Twitter, she has been vilified as a terrible aunt, the most hated woman in America and an awful human being.

"I’m still in shock, but it’s not been a pleasant experience from the beginning, of course. I am just confused, but I just feel like perhaps it’s the way the legal system is set up, so that the insurance companies are not in the spotlight for stepping up and taking responsibility for handling claims on properties," Connell said.

Many took aim in particular at her statement to jurors, reported by the Connecticut Post, that because of her injury she could not easily hold an hors d'oeuvre plate at a recent party.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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