Overworked Jurist's Widow Wins Skirmish in Negligence Suit Fight

June 17, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - No one could have ever called Frank Kinney Jr. a slacker when he was a New Haven (Connecticut) Superior Court jurist.

>In fact, before Kinney’s heart-attack death in September 1986, his estate claims the judge worked from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., breaking only for dinner with his family, according to a story in The Connecticut Law Tribune. Ever since then, his widow, Joan Kinney, has been battling for the legal right to file a damage lawsuit against the state. The charge: Frank Kinney’s state duties as presiding criminal and administrative judge for New Haven and as the chief administrative judge for the state court system’s criminal division were so overwhelming that he was literally worked to death.

The estate’s victory came when New Haven Superior Court Judge Richard Arnold determined that a legislative bill allowing Joan Kinney’s particular negligence claim against the state is not unconstitutional as a “special emolument” lacking in any broader public purpose. The Kinney estate convinced state lawmakers to pass a resolution declaring “Joan A. Kinney is authorized to institute and prosecute to final judgment an action against the state to recover damages for the death of Frank J. Kinney Jr.”

Arnold found a public purpose in lawmakers’ interest in resolving the unexamined public policy question of whether an employer can be held negligent for overworking an employee.   Arnold quoted Representative Michael Lawlor, D- East Haven, remarking in March 1994, “If there ever was a public servant who met his death because of the amount of time he spent on the job, it was Judge Kinney. There couldn’t have been a more compelling case of work-related death in my opinion and I would certainly support this initiative to test out the theory of negligence on the part of the state.”

I n allowing Kinney’s negligence suit, Arnold said the legislature “is sending a message to the public, employees and employers that those who go above and beyond the line of duty, and indeed work so hard as to endanger their health, are persons that the state must recognize in order to foster worker productivity and worker morale, and that workers everywhere, who give more than their jobs require, will not receive short shrift from the state.”