How the Theory of Res Ipsa Loquitur Helped a Hartford Attorney Leverage a Settlement From a Losing Case


Cyclist Daniel Hopkins was not wearing a helmet when he fell over the handlebars, and defense said there was nothing wrong with the rented bike – which left his attorney Jamie Sullivan with a serious personal injury case.

Sullivan, a Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald partner in Hartford, said while some attorneys saw a loss case with no chance of recovery, he sees things differently.

“There’s a legal theory called res ipsa loquitur, which means that under normal circumstances, if something goes wrong, you can conclude that something is wrong,” Sullivan said. “Here we have an experienced cyclist who rides his bike and is suddenly thrown over the handlebars.”

Sullivan, the co-author of a book on legal ethics in Connecticut, said he firmly believed he couldn’t get away with less than $ 25,000. And after a mediation in June between defender Frank Szilagyi of Szilagyi & Daly in Hartford and mediator Richard Mahoney of Rocky Hill, he received exactly that: $ 25,000.

“We wanted to get something; We just did it, “said Sullivan.” We wanted to pursue the case and if they lose a motion for a summary judgment they will be exposed in court. “

The message to other lawyers: “Stick with your cases and never give up,” Sullivan said. “Even if you have what appears to be a weak case – it seemed – see how it plays out.”

The biggest setback from the defense, Sullivan said, was the defense expert who said the bike was fine. “We countered with the legal analysis (res ipsa loquitur).”

Sullivan says insurance companies are reluctant to pay even $ 25,000 if they believe the plaintiff’s side has no case, but he said, “It was a business decision on their part too.”

According to the January 2019 lawsuit filed in the New London Superior Court, 50-year-old Hopkins from Pennsylvania was riding a bicycle in Mystic in June 2017 when he was injured. Mystic Community Bikes Inc., a local non-profit organization, provides bicycles for a fee in the Mystic Community.

However, something went terribly wrong shortly after Hopkins started riding.

Hopkins, who has ridden a bicycle for decades, was accused of being thrown over the handlebars of the bicycle. Hopkins drove a 35-inch Univega multispeed for women.

Although the cause of the accident was never established, the lawsuit alleged that the front brakes failed and became entangled or locked in the rim of the front tire.

Hopkins, Sullivan and the lawsuit said sustained injuries to the head, face, right hip, right arm, right shoulder, legs, right ankle and left hand. Hopkins had treatment for the injuries, but no surgery.

“He still has problems with his elbows today but the head injury is pretty much fixed,” said Sullivan.

In a statement late Monday, Szilagyi said, “The plaintiff had no idea how he was injured. He said he had a real injury and that he stood his ground as a seasoned cyclist. It was a lousy liability case. We saw it as a godsend for the plaintiff. The decision to make the settlement was a business decision of the insurance carrier. I think if we try this case it’ll go home with zero. “

In court pleadings, the defense blamed Hopkins. It was said that he had failed to keep and maintain a reasonable and reasonable lookout and that he had failed to pay attention to his surroundings.

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