When Jennifer Connell showed up at the 8th birthday party for a close relative in Westport, Conn., she never expected to become the subject of an Internet firestorm.
But when the 8-year-old, who is the son of her cousin but affectionately calls her his “aunt,” knocked Ms. Connell to the ground in what was later described as a “forceful greeting,” she was forced into a strange legal kerfuffle.
She says she needed to pay for medical bills covering multiple surgeries on a broken wrist. So Connell filed a $127,000 claim with the boy's parents’ homeowners insurance. The company offered her $1, leaving her no choice but to name her nephew as responsible for the injuries in what she says is a requirement under state laws.
On Tuesday, a Connecticut court rejected her lawsuit, saying the boy wasn’t responsible.
Reports of the suit quickly went viral, with some social media users branding her “crazy,” "the most hateable person of the day" and “the worst aunt ever”:
The case seemed tailor-made for Internet backlash. The "forceful" hug came after the nephew was riding a new bike around the house and spotted his aunt.
“All of a sudden he was there in the air, I had to catch him and we tumbled onto the ground,” Connell testified, the Westport News reported. “I remember him shouting, ‘Auntie Jen I love you,’ and there he was flying at me.”
Commenters particularly latched onto explanations Connell offered during the trial to explain her suit, saying the injuries had impacted her social life.
After saying she lived in third-floor walkup apartment in Manhattan, the Westport News reports, she added: “I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d'oeuvre plate.”
The boy’s mother, Lisa Tarala, died last year, according to the Westport News, further fueling animosity against Connell.
But she says the characterizations of her are misplaced. "I adore this child. I would never want to hurt him. He would never want to hurt me," she told CNN by phone.
"This was meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case," she added. “Connecticut law is such that I was advised by counsel that this is the way a suit is meant to be worded.”
She said she is still close with her family despite the lawsuit and recently took her nephew shopping for his Halloween costume, CNN reports.
"It's amazing the power that the Internet has that something can go viral, completely out of context," she told the network. "I'm certainly not trying to retire to some villa in the south of France. I'm simply trying to pay off my medical bills."
Legal experts confirmed Connell’s argument over why she had named her nephew as responsible.
“In Connecticut and most states, if you have a claim against someone for negligence, you sue that individual, not the insurance company,” Peter Kochenburger, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law who focuses on insurance issues, told the Associated Press.
That hasn’t stopped the Internet backlash, with many users wondering why the case had made it to trial at all: