Jury awards $1.7 million in Darien fallen tree lawsuit

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by Monica Potts
Stamford Advocate

November 21, 2009

STAMFORD — A jury Friday afternoon awarded $1.7 million to a man injured by a fallen tree more than three years ago, attorneys said.

Mieczyslaw Wisniewski and his wife, Jolanta Wisniewski, were driving on Rings End Road in Darien on July 11, 2006, when, about 4:30 p.m., a tree fell over and crashed onto his vehicle.

Wisniewski suffered neck fractures and other injuries from the crash, with medical bills totalling $130,000, said one of his attorneys, Sean McElligott. Wisniewski sued the Town of Darien and its Tree Warden Michael Cotta.

Of the $1.7 million, $200,000 was reserved for Jolanta Wisniewski, who was treated and released from the emergency room after the crash but who cared for Mieczyslaw Wisniewski during the months he was in a neck brace.

McElligott said Cotta was responsible for the tree because it was on the right-of-way near 35 Rings End Road, and the property owner had warned him several times about the tree since 2002.

"There was no evidence that any inspection was ever done," he said.

Because of those warnings, the warden was exempted from the qualified immunity that normally protects municipal officials from lawsuits, McElligott said.

"As far as we know ... we think this is the first verdict against a tree warden in the state of Connecticut," he said.

Attorneys for the town did not return a Friday afternoon message seeking comment.

The trial lasted eight days, and the jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours, McElligott said.