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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The “world’s worst aunt” and the nephew she sued appeared on The Today Show on Thursday morning to tell their side of the story. They said they love each other and the firestorm around the case was very upsetting.
Jennifer Connell tried to sue her nephew after the excited 8-year-old’s hug caused her to fall and break her wrist. She lost her case on Tuesday after a jury ruled in favor of Sean Tarala, who is now 12 years old.
“It’s heartbreaking and painful. It was like walking into a film of someone else’s life and I hadn’t been briefed.” Connell said about the coverage. “We love each other very much and this was simply a case of formality with an insurance claim.”
“She would never do anything to hurt the family and myself. She loves us,” Tarala said. “I felt like everybody was saying stuff that they didn’t know.”
“It sounded terrible to me from the very beginning. I said from the start of this … I would never want to sue Sean,” Connell said.
Connell reiterated her law firm’s statement Wednesday that Connecticut law forced her to sue an individual, and not the insurance company who denied the claim.
On Wednesday, the law firm of Jainchill and Beckert released a statement on behalf of Connell:
"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. 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."
Later in the day it released a second statement:
"It’s important to understand that this was an issue of medical insurance litigation forced upon our client to get insurers to pay for necessary and significant surgical costs, is more fairly viewed on that basis rather than as a family matter, and we continue to believe she deserved the best possible legal representation."
Connell testified against Tarala on Friday. Tarala, accompanied by his father, Michael Tarala, appeared at a hearing Friday. The boy's mother, Lisa Tarala, died last year.
Connell, a 54-year-old human resources manager, said she loves her nephew, but told the court he should be held responsible for her injury. Connell claims Tarala, of Westport, was negligent and careless, and she sued him for $127,000.
“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," her attorney said in a statement.
"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."
The hug happened March 18, 2011 when Connell showed up at the Taralas' Westport home for the boy's birthday. Sean was riding his brand-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.
The 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."
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."