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CT High Court Rejects Murder-Suicide Action

(CN) - The estate of a woman killed by her ex just hours after she had him arrested waited too long to sue police for negligence, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled.

Barbara Eckert had gone straight to Watertown police Department on the evening of Sept. 28, 2002, after she arrived at her home and found her ex-boyfriend, Mark Tannenbaum, there.

She told police that Tannenbaum punched the windows of her vehicle as she pulled up to the house, so she drove away.

While relaying the story, Eckert's phone rang several times and a police officer heard a male voice yelling through the phone.

The officer answered the phone when it rang a third time and heard Tannenbaum say, "I'll kill you."

After identifying himself as a police officer and learning that Tannenbaum was still at Eckert's home, the officer arrived at that property with two colleagues.

Angry and with alcohol on his breath, Tannenbaum advised the officers to arrest Eckert for leaving her children at the residence alone.

They arrested Tannenbaum instead but Officer John Carroll III decided to release the man later that evening on a promise to appear.

Tannenbaum drove to Eckert's home the next morning where he shot and killer her. He committed suicide later that day at another location.

Though Jennie Finkle, the administratrix of Eckert's estate, sued the city of Watertown and three officers in October 2003 for negligence, withdrew that complaint in April 2008.

Seven months later, Finkle filed a new complaint against Watertown and Carroll, a defendant she had not included in the original action.

The trial court ultimately awarded the defendants summary judgment, however, after finding that the statute of limitations had expired. That ruling rejected Finkle's claims that the "wrong defendant" statute saved her claims.

With an appellate panel affirming, the divided Connecticut Supreme Court did the same Tuesday.

"The plaintiff named a legally and factually correct cast of defendants to play the plot of the original action, with the town as lead actor, and that plot and cast remained generally the same between the original action and the second action, meaning that she was not entitled to introduce additional actors by bringing this second action," Justice Richard Robinson wrote for a four-person majority.

Finkle's interpretation of the law would allow plaintiffs to "take the proverbial second, third or even fourth bite of the apple, which could lead to unrestrained filings in cases with multiple defendants and open the door to endless litigation," the ruling states.

Joined by two others, Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote in dissent that Finkle was entitled to the used of the "wrong defendant" statute.

"The critical point is that, because an allegation of negligent conduct that the plaintiff raised against [the three officers] in the original action, namely, that they negligently released Tannenbaum, had been made against the wrong person, the plaintiff failed to obtain a judgment against the right defendant," she wrote.

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