Rhode Island Court Applies Maine Law to Deny Summary Judgment to Insulation Contractor

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The plaintiffs alleged negligence and breach of warranty based upon asbestos exposure sustained by decedent during his work at various job sites through the Laborer’s Union from 1969-1990. Defendant New England Insulation Company (NEI) filed a motion for summary judgment based upon various theories, which the court denied.

During his deposition, the decedent testified that he worked as a laborer for general contractors at job sites in Maine.  From 1973-1976 he worked at International Paper Mill around other trades, such as pipefitters and insulators. His brother and co-worker also testified as to the decedent’s work at the paper mill during this time. Another co-worker testified that NEI was the insulation contractor at this site and installed pipe covering.

First, NEI argued that the law of Maine should not apply, because the plaintiffs did not follow Rhode Island rules requiring notice when parties intend to apply foreign law.  The court found that the plaintiffs did provide notice because they gave a choice-of-law argument in their objection to NEI’s motion for summary judgment. The court then performed a choice of law analysis, finding a true conflict in the Maine and Rhode Island statutes of repose. Rhode Island’s statute of repose was much broader.

After finding a conflict, the court weighed the interest of both states to find which had the most significant relationship. Overall, Maine’s contacts made it the better choice of law because this is where the relationship between decedent and NEI was centered. Thus, the court applied the substantive law of Maine to NEI’s summary judgment motion.

The Maine Supreme Court recently held that “in asbestos personal injury matters, Maine law requires evidence demonstrating that the asbestos containing product originated with the defendant as a prerequisite to product identification and liability.”  Based on this rationale, the court only reviews a plaintiff’s exposure evidence to a defendant’s original product.  Here, the plaintiffs alleged exposure from the installation of asbestos-containing pipe covering and provided evidence with historical documents and testimony to support their claims.  The court found that the plaintiffs met their burden to overcome summary judgment, and continued on to analyze whether an issue of fact remained regarding plaintiffs’ allegation that NEI’s conduct or product caused them damages. In doing so, the court applied the frequency, regularity and proximity standard to find that the plaintiffs overcame this burden as well.

Finally, since NEI argued for summary judgment under Rhode Island’s statute of repose, and not Maine’s, the court found that under Maine’s statute of repose the plaintiffs’ claims were not barred.

Read the full decision here.