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RISupreme Court Personal Injury Decisions-2004-2005

2004-2005 Rhode Island Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Supreme Court Case Summaries and links written  by the Rhode Island Judiciary:

Charles Lennon v. Dacomed Corporation and National Union Fire Insurance, No. 04-292 (June 23, 2006)

After being implanted with a Dura-II penile prosthesis, the plaintiff, Charles Lennon, complained about discomfort, noise, and keeping the prosthesis in a concealed position.  He initially sued Urohealth Systems, Inc., on a theory of products liability in the United States District Court of Rhode Island.  After a contentious discovery process and two trips to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the parties stipulated to a dismissal with prejudice of the federal court suit.

The plaintiff also had sued Urohealth, Dacomed Corporation (Urohealth’s wholly owned subsidiary) and its insurer, National Union Fire Insurance, in Rhode Island Superior Court, alleging similar claims as those raised in the federal court suit.  After the dismissal was entered in federal court, all three defendants in state court moved for summary judgment, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata precluded plaintiff’s state court action.

The hearing justice granted summary judgment with respect to only Urohealth and indicated that although Dacomed was in privity with Urohealth, the doctrine of res judicata did not apply because the defendants were separate and distinct entities.

A trial ensued and a jury returned a $750,000 verdict for plaintiff.  The defendants moved for a new trial, and, alternatively, to modify the judgment.  The trial justice denied their motion for a new trial, but granted a remittitur; he directed the plaintiff to decide whether to accept a modified judgment of $400,000 or face a new trial on damages.  The plaintiff rejected the modified judgment and consequently, the trial justice ordered a new trial on damages.  The parties cross-appealed.  The plaintiff appealed the trial justice’s granting of a new trial on damages based upon his rejection of the remittitur.  The defendants appealed the denial of their motion for judgment as a matter of law again contending that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel should have barred the plaintiff’s state court action.

The Supreme Court first concluded that National Union was not a proper appellant because it was not specifically named in the notice of appeal as required by Rule 3(c) of the Supreme Court Rules of Appellate Procedure.  The judgment against National Union was remanded to the Superior Court.  The Court then concluded that the plaintiff’s state court action against Dacomed was barred by res judicata because: (1) Dacomed and Urohealth were in privity; (2) both lawsuits had an identity of issues; and (3) the dismissal in federal court was an adjudication on the merits.  Consequently, the plaintiff’s appeal was dismissed.

Margaret Pastore, in her capacity as Administratrix of the Estate of Fred V. Pastore v. Charles Samson, M.D. et, No. 05-110 (June 16, 2006)

On this writ of certiorari, Kent County Memorial Hospital (hospital) requested that the Supreme Court review a decision of a motion justice granting the motion of the plaintiff, Margaret Pastore (plaintiff), administratrix of the estate of Fred V. Pastore (Pastore), whereby the hospital would be required to produce in the course of discovery in this medical malpractice civil suit some 750 pages of documents pertaining to one of its doctors, Charles Samson, M.D.  The hospital argued that the documents were protected by four different privileges:  peer-review, confidential health-care information, board of medical licensure and discipline, and attorney-client.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part:  The Court affirmed the decision with respect to the board of medical licensure and discipline and the peer-review privilege, save document numbered 138, at least portions of which were privileged; and the Court remanded for further consideration the hospital’s assertion of the attorney-client and confidential health-care information privileges.  In doing so, the Court held that our recognition of a corporate negligence cause of action was reconcilable with the peer-review privilege, and that patient complaints were not protected by the peer-review privilege.

Virginia P. Foley v. St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island et al, No. 05-90 (June 14, 2006)

The plaintiff, Virginia P. Foley, instituted a medical malpractice action against St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island, John R. Sullivan, M.D., Bernard Cieniawa, D.O., St. Joseph Hospital Radiology Associates, Inc., A. Hamid Shahinfar, M.D., and Angelo DiCenso, M.D.  Eventually, and for various reasons, the claims against all the defendants were dismissed.

Doctor DiCenso’s motion to dismiss, asserting that the action against him was time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations, was granted first.  Then, summary judgment was entered in favor of Dr. Shahinfar and St. Joseph Hospital Radiology Associates, Inc. when the hearing justice found that Ms. Foley failed to present sufficient evidence regarding the standard of care applicable to a radiologist.  Finally, a justice of the Superior Court ruled favorably on a motion in limine that the remaining defendants filed.  She found that Ms. Foley’s expert was not qualified to testify about causation and she therefore entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island, Dr. Sullivan, and Dr. Cieniawa.  Ms. Foley appealed each of these decisions to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court affirmed the motion justice’s decision to dismiss Dr. DiCenso because it held that Ms. Foley did not exercise reasonable diligence in discovering his involvement in her treatment.  The Court also agreed that the alleged negligence on the part of Dr. Shahinfar and St. Joseph Hospital Radiology Associates, Inc. was not patently obvious and, therefore, Ms. Foley had the burden, in opposing the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, to present evidence from an expert regarding the applicable standard of care and deviation from that standard of care.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Dr. Shahinfar and St. Joseph Hospital Radiology Associates, Inc.  Finally, the Court held that the trial justice did not abuse her discretion, but exercised it soundly and judicially, when she ruled that the plaintiff’s expert witness was not qualified to testify on the issue of causation.  Therefore, the Court upheld the entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Dr. Cieniawa, Dr. Sullivan, and St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island.

Cara Benaski v. Carl Weinberg, in his capacity as President of the Summit at Warwick Executive Park Condominium Association et al, No. 05-232 (June 12, 2006)

In this slip-and-fall action, the plaintiff, Cara Benaski, appealed from a grant of summary judgment in favor of certain defendants associated with the Warwick Executive Office Park   On appeal, the plaintiff argued that unusual circumstances existed that warranted a departure from the general rule that permits a business invitor a reasonable time after a storm to clear snow and ice.  The Supreme Court, applying the principles addressed in Terry v. Central Auto Radiators, Inc., 732 A.2d 713 (R.I. 1999), held that the plaintiff failed to establish any unusual circumstances and that, therefore, that the defendants were under no duty to remove accumulated snow and ice before a reasonable time after the storm ended.  Consequently, the Supreme Court held that no genuine issue of material fact existed and that the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Virginia Hanson et al v. Edwin Singsen, M.D., No. 04-301 (June 12, 2006)

Virginia Hanson (Hanson) and her husband (collectively plaintiffs) appealed a Superior Court ruling granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of Edwin Singsen, (defendant) on the following grounds: (1) that the plaintiffs failed to prove proximate causation in their medical malpractice claim; (2) that the plaintiffs failed to prove their informed consent claim; and (3) that the statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs’ claim.  The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial justice, holding that the statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs’ claim because during the eight years between Hanson’s surgery and the filing of her lawsuit, the discovery rule did not serve to toll the three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice.  Having held that the statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs’ claim, the Court did not reach the other issues presented on appeal.

Marguerite Andreoni et al v. Aaron Ainsworth et al, No. 05-255 (June 9, 2006)

In this negligence suit stemming from an automobile accident, the plaintiffs, Marguerite Andreoni, Lauren Andreoni, and Candace Dufresne (collectively plaintiffs), appealed from an entry of summary judgment in the Superior Court in favor of two of the defendants, Carolyn Ainsworth (Carolyn) and Volvo Finance North America (collectively defendants).  On the determinative issue of whether the driver of the automobile had consent to operate that automobile, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that, pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 31-33-7 and the fact that the automobile was registered in Carolyn’s name, the plaintiffs had set forth prima facie evidence that the driver operated the automobile with Carolyn’s consent.  Accordingly, the Court reversed the entry of summary judgment because the plaintiff had created a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of consent.

Raymond Lacey et al v. Jan Reitsma, in his capacity as Director of State of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management et al, No. 05-226 (June 6, 2006)

The plaintiffs in this personal injury action, who are the parents of a minor child who was injured while riding his bicycle at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island, on July 6, 2000, brought suit against the State of Rhode Island and the State of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.  The plaintiffs appealed from the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, contending that the trial justice erroneously applied the Recreational Use Statute, G.L. 1956 chapter 6 of title 32.

The plaintiffs further argued that even if that statute applied to the state, the immunity from liability that it provided was not absolute and contained an exception for “willful or malicious” conduct that should have operated to expose the state to liability in this case.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment pursuant to the unambiguous language of the Recreational Use Statute, which had been amended to include the state and municipalities within its purview, and pursuant to the equally unambiguous nature of the relevant precedent.  The Supreme Court also held that the “willful or malicious” exception to the Recreational Use Statute did not apply, since the defendants had pointed to no evidence that these defendants had discovered young R.J. in a position of peril and then failed to warn him against the potentially dangerous condition.

For these reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.

State of Rhode Island v. Lead Industries Association, Inc., et al, No. 04-63 (June 2, 2006)

The Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to review the propriety of a contingent fee agreement engaging two private law firms to provide legal representation for the Attorney General of the State of Rhode Island in the prosecution of a public nuisance action against certain manufacturers of lead paint pigments, as well as their trade association, Lead Industries Association, Inc. (collectively defendants).  The petitioners argued that the agreement violated both their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Rhode Island law.  The Supreme Court held that since both claims implicated novel questions of constitutional law, and since the Court’s review of the claims at this time is not unavoidable, the matter was not presently justiciable.  The Court quashed the writ for want of present justiciability.

Virginia Mead et al v. Papa Razzi et al, No. 04-317 (June 2, 2006)

After this Court issued its opinion in Mead v. Papa Razzi Restaurant, 840 A.2d 1103 (R.I. 2004) (Mead I), reversing a trial justice’s grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants, a second jury trial was held.  That second trial resulted in a judgment of the Superior Court in the plaintiff’s favor pursuant to a jury verdict of negligence on the part of the defendants.

On appeal, defendants argued that the trial justice’s instruction to the jury with respect to the issue of spoliation contained three separate legal errors, each constituting reversible error.  Specifically, defendants argued that the spoliation instruction improperly permitted the jury (1) to determine that defendants’ failure to create an accident report constituted spoliation; (2) to conclude that there had been spoliation of evidence without first finding that there had been a deliberate or negligent destruction or loss of evidence; and (3) to “pyramid” inferences in arriving at its finding of negligence.

The defendants also argued on appeal that the trial justice erred in denying their motion for judgment as a matter of law and that the trial justice abused her discretion by refusing to allow defendants to call one of their former employees as a witness.

This Court held that the trial justice’s instruction allowing the jury to conclude that there had been spoliation of evidence was appropriate in light of its earlier holding in Mead I.  The Court further held that the trial justice was correct in denying defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law because there were issues of fact raised at trial upon which reasonable minds could differ.  The Court did not address those of the defendants’ arguments which had not been properly preserved at trial.

Russell Kraczkowski et al v. Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Company, No. 05-165 (June 2, 2006)

The plaintiffs, Russell Kraczkowski and Rose Kraczkowski, on behalf of their minor child, Heather Kraczkowski, appealed from an order denying their motion to vacate an arbitration award.  The plaintiffs contended that they should not have been made to proceed with arbitration on Heather’s claim for underinsured motorist benefits from the defendant, Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Company, because they did not unequivocally elect to proceed with arbitration.  The Court disagreed, concluding that the plaintiffs unequivocally demanded arbitration in a letter written to the defendant in November 2001.  Moreover, the plaintiffs selected an arbitrator and, but for numerous continuances spanning six months, the arbitration would have concluded.  Consequently, the plaintiffs were barred by G.L. 1956 § 10-3-2 from opting out of arbitration and pursuing Heather’s claim in Superior Court.

Roxanna Morales a/k/a Roxanna Vinagre v. Town of Johnston et al v. Ronald Rotondo d/b/a A Cut Above Landscaping Service, No. 04-310 (April 26, 2006)

The plaintiff, Roxanna Morales a/k/a Roxanna Vinagre (plaintiff), filed suit against the City of Central Falls and the Central Falls School District (Central Falls), the Town of Johnston and the Johnston School Committee (Johnston), and Ronald Rotondo, doing business as A Cut Above Landscaping Service (Rotondo), for an injury she suffered while playing in a high school soccer game.  After the plaintiff presented her case, the trial justice granted Johnston’s and Rotondo’s motions for judgment as a matter of law.  The jury returned a verdict against Central Falls.  Central Falls appealed from several of the trial justice’s rulings.  The plaintiff appealed from the trial justice’s grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Johnston and Rotondo.

Central Falls argued that, because the coaches were immune from suit pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-1-48, the plaintiff’s derivative claim against their employer was also barred.  The Supreme Court agreed and vacated the judgment against Central Falls.

Concerning the claim against Johnston, the Court concluded that the trial justice erred by granting judgment because G.L. 1956 § 32-6-3, the recreational use statute, does not apply to the town’s soccer field when the field is used for high school soccer games and is not open to the public at that time, as anticipated by chapter 6 of title 32.  Based on the declared purpose of § 32-6-3, the Supreme Court held that plaintiff was not a member of the public as contemplated by the statute.  In addition, the Court held that the public duty doctrine did not shield Johnston from liability because Johnston owed a special duty to the plaintiff.  Therefore, the Court vacated the judgment as a matter of law in favor of Johnston and remanded the case for a new trial.

The Supreme Court held that the trial justice properly granted judgment in favor of Rotondo because plaintiff failed to produce any evidence tending to show a deviation from the proper standard of care.  Thus, plaintiff did not prove negligence, and her claim against Rotondo must fail.

Metropolitan Property and Casualty Company v. Colin Barry, No. 03-478 (March 3, 2006)

This case concerns the appropriate calculation of prejudgment interest in uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM) arbitration cases.  The Supreme Court adopted a uniform formula for the computation of prejudgment interest in arbitration cases in the uninsured and underinsured motorist context and declared that the imposition of prejudgment interest in accordance with the computation formula set forth in this case is mandatory in all pending and future cases of this kind.

Prejudgment interest shall begin to accrue on the date of the injury. Under this methodology, any total damages ascertained in a UM arbitration case will accrue prejudgment interest from the date of the injury until the date of any payment by the tortfeasor, or medical payment by the UM carrier or other payment. The amount of this payment shall be deducted from this sum and after that calculation is made by the arbitrators, prejudgment interest shall accrue until the judgment is paid.

Although the Supreme Court recognized the juxtaposition of tort principles and contract law in the framework of uninsured motorist insurance, Rhode Island’s uninsured motorist statute, § 27-7-2.1(a), requires that a UM policy provide “for the protection of persons insured under the policy who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles * * *.”  The insurance policy in effect in this case provided that Metropolitan would pay damages for bodily injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an uninsured vehicle that the insured is “legally entitled to collect from the owner or driver of an uninsured highway vehicle.”  (Emphasis added).  In this state, an injured plaintiff who recovers damages in any civil action, is legally entitled to collect, both pecuniary damages, and “interest at the rate of twelve percent (12%) per annum thereon from the date the cause of action accrued[.]”  G.L. 1956 § 9-21-10.

The judgment of the Superior Court confirming the arbitration award with respect to prejudgment interest was vacated and the case remanded for a new judgment in accordance with this opinion.

Camille Ruggiero v. City of Providence et al, No. 04-376 (March 3, 2006)

Appellant, Camille Ruggiero, appealed from a judgment of the Superior Court denying her motion for summary judgment and granting the cross-motion for summary judgment of the appellee, the City of Providence.  On appeal, Ruggiero contended that that the hearing justice erred when he determined that there are benefits “payable” to her under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  Ruggiero claimed that the workers’ compensation benefits to which she would have been entitled are no longer “payable” to her because the city suspended those benefits pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 28-35-58(a).  Therefore, she argued, the city improperly relied on § 17-191 of the Providence Code of Ordinances to offset her disability retirement pension.  On the other hand, the city argued that the hearing justice’s interpretation of the word “payable” in § 17-191 was correct.

The Supreme Court interpreted the word “payable” in § 17-191 as referring to an obligation to pay that is not immediately due.  Therefore, the Court held that § 17-191 applies to a situation, such as Ruggiero’s, in which workers’ compensation is payable, even though the city has suspended payment of such benefits pursuant to § 28-35-58.

Angelo DeSantis et al v. Wallace Prelle et al, No. 04-269 (February 24, 2006)

Angelo and Vicki DeSantis (plaintiffs) appealed the dismissal of their suit against MetLife Auto & Home Insurance Co., alias, and/or Metropolitan Property and Casualty Co. (insurer), for Wallace Prelle’s (insured) alleged negligent operation of a motor vehicle.  The Superior Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim against the insurer, which had been brought under G.L. 1956 § 27-7-2, because the plaintiffs did not file suit against the insurer directly until after the statute of limitations had expired pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-1-14(b).  In this case, the plaintiffs filed a negligence action against the insured shortly before the limitations period expired.  Unbeknownst to them, the insured had died approximately twenty-one months previously.  The plaintiffs were allowed to substitute the insurer in place of the defendant, but their complaint subsequently was dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure as being time-barred. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.  Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the three-year limitations period provided in § 9-1-14(b) barred a direct action against the insurance carrier; that the 120-day period for service of process under Rule 4(l) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure did not toll the limitations period; and that Rule 15(c) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, which permits an amended pleading to relate back to the date of the original pleading, did not apply because § 27‑7‑2 provides for a direct action against the insurer, not a substitution action.

Rose Perry v. Joseph Alessi, M.D. et al, No. 04-18 (February 3, 2006)

The defendants, Joseph Alessi, M.D., and East Providence Medical Center/East Providence Medical Center, Inc., appealed from a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Rose Perry, in this action for medical malpractice. The plaintiff alleged that Dr. Alessi’s failure to diagnose her condition properly as a bowel obstruction caused her to experience excruciating pain, created a life-threatening situation, and resulted in emergency surgery for bowel perforation. The defendants argued that the trial justice committed three errors of law warranting reversal of the judgment and remand for a new trial: (1) failure to enter judgment as a matter of law in the defendants’ favor because the plaintiff failed to establish the requisite element of causation; (2) failure to instruct the jury properly on the burden of proof; and (3) failure to allow Dr. Alessi to testify about the opinion of a consulting physician.  Additionally, the defendants contended that the jury verdict was excessive.

The Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could infer that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendants’ negligence, and that the trial justice had properly submitted the issue of causation to the jury.  Secondly, the Supreme Court held that the defendants had not properly preserved their objection to the jury instructions for appellate review.  Thirdly, the Court held that a statement made by a consulting physician did not qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule under Rule 803(4) of the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence.  Finally, the Court upheld the jury’s award of damages.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.

Children’s Friend & Service v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, NO. 04-35 (February 2, 2006)

This appeal arose out of an action for declaratory judgment that Children’s Friend and Service (plaintiff) brought, concerning an “umbrella excess liability [insurance] policy” St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company (defendant) issued to the plaintiff in 1982.  After certain issues concerning indemnity coverage were severed, the question about the applicability of an endorsement that the defendant asserted was part of the plaintiff’s policy was tried before a jury.  After a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor, the defendant filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law and a motion for a new trial, both of which the trial justice denied.

In assigning error to the denials of both post-verdict motions, the defendant argued on appeal that the trial justice erroneously instructed the jury on the substantive law concerning the construction of insurance contracts.  Specifically, the defendant argued that the trial justice improperly charged the jury that it must conclude “that a professional services endorsement was attached to the original policy when it was issued” for the terms of the endorsement to apply.  Addressing the defendant’s judgment as a matter of law argument, the Supreme Court held that the evidence presented to the jury, and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, supported the jury’s findings.  Also, the Supreme Court held that the trial justice adequately covered the substantive law in charging the jury, and applied the appropriate legal standard.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.

Crowe Countryside Realty Associates, Co., LLC v. Novare Engineers, Inc., No. 04-204 (February 1, 2006)

The Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari in this case to address an important issue under Rule 26(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure concerning the extent to which a party may obtain discovery of written communications between an opposing party’s attorney and its testifying expert witness.

The Supreme Court held that not all communications and information shared with testifying expert witnesses are discoverable.  The Supreme Court interpreted subdivisions (b)(3) and (b)(4) of Rule 26 to mean that factual work product shared with testifying experts was fully discoverable, whereas opinion work product, that is, the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney, was protected from discovery.  The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Superior Court with instructions to review the requested documents in camera so that any opinion work product contained in the documents may be redacted.

Imperial Casualty and Indemnity Co. v. Amitie Bellini et al. Michael DeSantis v. Imperial Casualty and Indemnity Co. et al. No. 2003-480-A and 2003-481-A (December 22, 2005)

Michael DeSantis (DeSantis), Amitie Bellini (Bellini), and Norbell Realty Corporation (Norbell) (collectively the plaintiffs) appealed a Superior Court judgment finding Imperial Casualty and Indemnity Company (Imperial) was not liable for a personal injury award owed to DeSantis by the now-defunct Norbell.  On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that they had been denied the right to trial by jury, and that the trial justice had committed clear error by refusing to hold Norbell liable on the theories of waiver and estoppel, by not applying the doctrine of spoliation against Norbell, and by declining to reform to the insurance contract to reflect the parties’ intent.

The trial justice did not err when he denied the plaintiffs’ last-minute motion for a trial by jury on issues not triable by jury.  We held that Imperial waived its right to deny coverage by demanding payment under the contract with knowledge of the possibility that Norbell was not the named insured.  We declined to rule on the issues of estoppel, reformation, and spoliation, and remanded the case to the Superior Court for trial on the issues of debt on judgment and bad faith.

Maria Esposito, as executrix of the Estate of Marion T. Thomson v. James P. O’Hair et al, No. 04-186 (December 19, 2005)

The defendants, who include both medical care providers and the Medical Malpractice Joint Underwriting Association (MMJUA), appealed a Superior Court holding that Medicaid benefits are inadmissible as evidence to reduce their liability to an injured party in a medical malpractice case.  This action began in March 2001, after the plaintiff’s decedent filed suit alleging that the defendants negligently failed to diagnose her with Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Esposito and the defendants reached a settlement agreement in which all claims were dismissed, with the exception of a $381,689.26 claim for medical expenses.  The Superior Court entered judgment for this amount, plus interest, in Esposito’s favor.

As grounds for appeal, the defendants argued that Esposito’s recovery should have been reduced by the amount of Thompson’s Medicaid benefits because Medicaid is a “state income disability act,” within the meaning of the collateral source statute, G.L. 1956 § 9-19-34.1.  According to the defendants, § 9-19-34.1 is a remedial statute aimed at controlling the cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums, and therefore it should be liberally construed to effectuate this goal.  The Court held that, regardless of whether the statute was liberally or strictly construed, Medicaid was not a state income disability act because recipients of Medicaid do not receive income and they need not be disabled to receive benefits.  Therefore, the judgment of the Superior Court was affirmed.

John H. Petrarca v. Fidelity and Casualty Insurance Company, No. 05-2 (October 31, 2005)

The plaintiff, John H. Petrarca, appealed summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Fidelity and Casualty Insurance Company (Fidelity).  The Superior Court held that Fidelity was not required to indemnify Petrarca for damages to a car that he borrowed from an automobile dealer while his car was being repaired.  The court reasoned that when Petrarca borrowed the car, he failed to provide the automobile dealer with adequate proof of insurance, and therefore, under G.L. 1956 § 31-3-20(c), the automobile dealer, and not Petrarca, was liable for the cost of repairs.  The court also held that Petrarca did not personally suffer damages as a result of Fidelity’s denial of coverage because he did not own the car and any claim against him by the owner for the cost of repairs had lapsed under the applicable statute of limitations.

The judgment of the Superior Court was affirmed by the Court.  The Court agreed that Petrarca failed to offer any evidence of damages to support his claim against Fidelity.  In the absence of such evidence, it was not necessary for the Court to address whether Petrarca complied with § 31-3-20(c).

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

 

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