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Munn v. The Hotchkiss School
Connecticut Supreme Court
165 A.3d 1167 (2017)
Fifteen-year-old Cara Munn (plaintiff) contracted tick-borne encephalitis on a trip to China organized by the Hotchkiss School (defendant), a private boarding school. Before the trip, the school e-mailed students and parents an itinerary and a link to the CDC website, which erroneously connected to information about Central America instead of China. The e-mail discussed immunizations, prescriptions, and sexually transmitted diseases, but did not warn about insect-borne diseases. Instead the packing list simply included bug spray under “miscellaneous items.” The director of the school’s international programs had viewed the CDC webpage on tick-borne encephalitis in forested regions of northeastern China (which advised wearing long sleeves, pants, and DEET-based repellant), and knew the itinerary included those regions. Yet nobody warned students or parents about insect-borne diseases prevalent there, or told them to wear long sleeves, pants, and DEET. The students hiked up a forested mountain in an affected region wearing shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops. Munn and her companions got lost on the way down and received many insect bites. Ten days later, she came down with encephalitis that caused permanent brain damage. Munn sued the school in federal court and won a $41.5 million jury verdict, including $31.5 million in noneconomic damages. The presiding federal court requested that the Connecticut Supreme Court resolve two state law questions: (1) whether Connecticut public policy imposed a duty on the school to warn about serious insect-borne diseases when organizing trips abroad, and (2) whether state law required reduction of the damages award.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Rogers, C.J.)
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