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Jury: Aunt who sued over hug gets no money

Connecticut Post Connecticut Post 13/10/2015 By Daniel Tepfer
Broken arm in cast © iStockphoto/Getty Images Broken arm in cast

A jury has ruled against a New York woman who sued her nephew for hugging her too hard on his eighth birthday.

In a case that suddenly burst on the national news scene, Jennifer Connell claimed the boy acted unreasonably when he leaped into her arms and caused her to fall on the ground and break her wrist four years ago.

But a six-member Superior Court jury found that the boy, Sean Tarala of Westport, was not liable for his actions.

Connell showed no emotion as the verdict was announced but later pleaded with judicial marshals to escort her to her car through a throng of media waiting outside the Main Street courthouse.

She ignored shouts for comments as the marshals led her away.

Connell filed suit in 2013, seeking $127,000 from the boy, who she described as always being “very loving, sensitive,” toward her. The boy is the only defendant in the case.

The boy, now 12 years old, appeared with his father, Michael Tarala, in the Main Street courtroom. The boy’s mother, Lisa Tarala, died last year.

On the witness stand before Judge Edward Stodolink on Friday, the 54-year-old Connell, a human resources manager in Manhattan, testified she loves Sean but believes he should be held accountable for her injury.

On March 18, 2011, Connell, who has no children of her own, arrived at the Tarala home on Woods Grove Road to attend Sean’s birthday party.

The boy had gotten his first two-wheeler for his birthday, and was joyfully riding the bright-red bike around and around the home, according to testimony.

But when he spotted Connell, he dropped the new bicycle on the ground, exclaiming, “Auntie Jen, Auntie Jen.”

“All of a sudden he was there in the air, I had to catch him and we tumbled onto the ground,” Connell testified of her encounter with the 50-pound boy.

“I remember him shouting, ‘Auntie Jen I love you,’ and there he was flying at me.”

Although hurt, Connell said, she didn’t complain to the boy at the time.

“It was his birthday party, and I didn’t want to upset him,” she told the jury.

But, Connell continued, her life was turned upside down as a result of the injury.

“I live in Manhattan in a third-floor walk-up so it has been very difficult,” she said. “And we all know how crowded it is in Manhattan.”

And then there is the damage the injury has done to Connell’s social life.

“I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate,” she said.

“The injuries, losses and harms to the plaintiff were caused by the negligence and carelessness of the minor defendant in that a reasonable 8-year-old under those circumstances would know or should have known that a forceful greeting such as the one delivered by the defendant to the plaintiff could cause the harms and losses suffered by the plaintiff,” the lawsuit claimed.

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