Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court

The story begins in the 30’s and 40’s. Despite the known harmful side effects of lead based paints, manufacturers continued to produce the product AND advertise that it was a safe kid friendly product. Finally, the truth came out and the United States banned lead based paint in 1978. The story is not unlike the litigation surrounding cigarettes and asbestos.

Paint manufacturers made billions and children across the country were placed at serious risk from lead based paint. In fact, many children today who live in pre-1978 housing remain at risk. Rhode Island was hit particularly hard and many children were poisoned. Our AG at the time, Sheldon Whitehouse, hired outside plaintiff counsel to sue the paint manufacturers to absorb the massive costs that lead based paint placed on the State due to increased health care costs and housing costs. The state won…billions!

The money was to be used to remove lead based paint from hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island homes. Despite this important ruling which sent a clear message to corporations placing profits before safety, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned the jury verdict.

Rhode Island law requires that an injury caused by the negligence of a Town or City be reported to that Town or City within sixty (60) days of the accident, or the case will be dismissed. This is a topic that has been on my mind for the past week or so because I have a new client who broke her ankle on a Providence sidewalk and because the Rhode Island Supreme Court just discussed the law in a recent ruling.

The plaintiff in the recent Rhode Island Supreme Court Decision, Susan McNulty, had her case dismissed by summary judgment because she did not adequately notify the City of Providence of her fall. Ms. McNulty spoke with the City clerk but never actually notified the City in writing, as per the statute, and the City moved for Summary Judgment. Summary judgment was granted meaning that her case is dead and buried. The Supreme Court affirmed the granting of summary judgment.

Rhode Island General Laws 45-15-9 and 45-15-10 state that a person injured on a highway, causeway or bridge, must give notice to the Town or City obliged to keep the road or bridge in a safe condition, of any injury within sixty days of occurrence. The notice MUST be in writing and signed by the injured party (or his or her attorney) and indicate the time, location (with specificity), and manner of the injury that occurred on public property. Because Ms. McNulty only notified the City of Providence by phone, she was in violation of the Statute and lost her case.

The general public is unaware that this statute even exists and may falsely believe that they have three (3) years to bring a suit against a town or city because that is the statute of limitations. Unfortunately, this is a costly mistake. There are additional provisions in the statute as well which require a formal demand before the filing of a lawsuit, etc.

Regardless of the nature of the accident, whether slip and fall or auto accident, you must notify the city or town if they are a potential defendant. This is the law throughout Rhode Island. Therefore, if you were injured on public property, it is imperative that you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney right away so that you do not lose your rights to compensation. This is a legal minefield and not an area of law which you want to travel alone.

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The Judicial Nominating Committee will interview six potential candidates to fill the vacancy created by the promotion of Judge Suttell to Chief Justice. 

Three current judges: Judge Savage and Judge Indeglia of the Superior Court, and Judge D’Ambra of the Family Court will be interviewed.  In addition, three private attorneys, John A. MacFadyen, Samuel Zurier, and Sandra Lanni will be considered.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court in an opinion authored by retiring Chief Justice Williams, upheld a $500,000 medical malpractice settlement against a Barrington urologist.  The plaintiff Woon Kam Youngsae sufferred from kidney disease and ultimately had to undergo a kidney transplant. 

One of the issues on appeal was Dr. Jacques Susset’s inability to produce certain diagnostic and visit reports pertaining to the plaintiff.  In her instructions to the jury, trial Justice Gibney stated:

“Under certain circumstances, spoliation of evidence may give rise to an adverse inference that the missing or spoliated evidence evidence would have been unfavorable to the position of the party unable to produce it. A showing of bad faith is not required before the jury will be permitted to draw this inference.”

Attorneys for the defense argued that such an instruction unfairly prejudiced the jury, but Williams writing for a unanimous Court said that the instructions did not so prejudice the defendant as to warrant reversal. 

It is only reasonable that juries be allowed to make a negative inference when doctors are unable to produce records because medical malpractice cases are built on the records written and in the possession of the defendant.  A plaintiff’s only chance at justice requires truth and accuracy in medical reporting.

Governor Carcieri has nominated Justice Paul Suttell to replace Chief Justice Frank Williams at the State’s highest Court.

The Governor said of Judge Suttell:

Justice Suttell brings a wealth of judicial and scholarly experience to the position of Chief Justice…He has served the public with the highest honor and distinction, first as a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and later as a Family Court Judge and Supreme Court Justice. He is a dedicated and conscientious jurist, whose understanding of the law and ability to lead will serve him well as Chief Justice.

Justice Suttell has been on the State Supreme Court since 2003 and his appointment as Chief Justice should pass the State House of Representatives and Senate.

As a bonus – Justice Suttell and I at my swearing in.

Rhode Island has its fair share of pressing issues and we will soon be faced with yet another.  A number of factors are forming below the surface that will make gay marriage in Rhode Island a major issue in the coming weeks.

Rhode Island is now the only New England State that does not recognize some form of gay marriage or civil union for homosexuals.  Vermont recently added their name to the growing list of States recognizing gay marriage and the Iowa Supreme Court this week unanimously overturned a ban on same sex marriage.  In addition, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee is planning to vote on legislation that would allow a homosexual couple married in a state that recognizes such marriages to divorce in Rhode Island.  This is in conflict with the 2007 Rhode Island Supreme Court decision, Chambers v. Ormiston, which held that the Family Court lacked the jurisdiction to address the legal concerns of homosexual couples.  Finally, we all need to be aware that this issue is going to influence Carcieri’s appointment to replace Chief Justice Williams on the Supreme Court. 

And where does Carcieri stand on this issue…

Welcome to the first post of my new blog that begins today on the same day that I open my own practice.  I will focus on the case law and statutes of Rhode Island and Massachusetts as well as the areas in which I practice.  I hope to be helpful and informative and I accept your opinions and criticism to each and every post.

Since this is the first – here is a bit about me…

Prior to graduating from Boston College Law School, I spent several years as a personal injury adjuster for a national insurance company. In this capacity I gained experience negotiating and resolving the most serious forms of injury, including brain injuries, scarring, fractures, burns, and fatalities. I negotiated and settled hundreds of cases and participated in mediations and arbitrations for the most complex of situations.