Aunt who sued nephew over hug says she was forced to go to trial

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The aunt who sued her nephew after the child jumped into her arms for a hug and knocked her over, breaking her wrist, said she was forced to do so by Connecticut law when the insurance company wanted to pay her $1 to cover her treatment.

Jennifer Connell took her now 12-year-old nephew to court seeking $127,000 in damages because the boy’s excited hug allegedly caused her to fall and break her wrist. He was 8 years old at the time.

On Tuesday, Connell lost her case, which has drawn nationwide attention. A jury found in favor of her nephew Sean Tarala.

The law firm of Jainchill and Beckert released a statement on behalf of Connell explaining why their client went to court.

“From the start, this was a case was about one thing: getting medical bills paid by homeowner’s insurance. Our client was never looking for money from her nephew or his family. It was about the insurance industry and being forced to sue to get medical bills paid," the statement read. "She suffered a horrific injury. She had two surgeries and is potentially facing a third. Prior to the trial, the insurance company offered her one dollar. Unfortunately, due to Connecticut law, the homeowner’s insurance company could not be identified as the defendant.”

Connell took the stand Oct. 9 to testify against Tarala, who, accompanied by his father Michael Tarala, appeared confused during the hearing. The boy's mother, Lisa Tarala, died last year.

A 54-year-old human resources manager, Connell said she loves her nephew but told the court he should be held responsible for her injury. Connell claims then-8-year-old Tarala was negligent and careless.

“Our client was very reluctant to pursue this case, but in the end she had no choice but to sue the minor defendant directly to get her bills paid. She didn’t want to do this anymore than anyone else would. But her hand was forced by the insurance company. We are disappointed in the outcome, but we understand the verdict. Our client is being attacked on social media. Our client has been through enough," her attorneys said in a statement.

The hug happened March 18, 2011, when Connell showed up at the Taralas' Westport, Conn., home for the boy's birthday. The child was riding his new red bike when he noticed his aunt and came running, shouting, "Auntie Jen, I love you," according to court records.

Connell's 50-pound nephew jumped into her arms, sending the two tumbling to the ground, she testified. At the time, Connell said, she was injured but "it was his birthday party and I didn't want to upset him," according to the CT Post.

Court documents state that Connell fractured her left arm and needed surgery. She claimed the injuries were permanently disabling.

Connell, who doesn't have children of her own, said her life in a third-floor Manhattan walk-up has been "very difficult" since that day. Her social life has taken a serious hit as well, she said.

"I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d'oeuvre plate," court documents allege on behalf of the plaintiff.

Connell's attorney claimed that "a reasonable eight 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."