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Jonathan Michaud obtains summary judgment for energy company defendant in an asbestos exposure wrongful death action pending in Rhode Island Superior Court.

On October 22, 2018, the Rhode Island Superior Court granted summary judgment to ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (“ExxonMobil”) on all counts contained in Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint in the matter of Robert E. Carson, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Ralph E. Carson, et al. v. 3M Company, et al., Civil Action No. PC-2011-1046. 

The late Mr. Ralph Carson was employed by ExxonMobil as a laborer and maintenance worker at a refinery facility in East Providence, Rhode Island, between 1946 and 1971. In late 2008 he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, and subsequently passed away in 2009. In 2011 his estate brought suit against numerous defendants, alleging that Mr. Carson’s mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to asbestos for which the defendants were responsible. Plaintiffs’ Complaint included counts for failure to warn, negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, conspiracy, loss of spousal consortium, and wrongful death.

ExxonMobil filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that it was immune from suit due to the exclusivity provision of the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”). ExxonMobil argued that since it was undisputed that Mr. Carson was an employee whose personal injury arose out of and was in the course of his employment at ExxonMobil, Mr. Carson’s estate could not maintain an action against his former employer. Furthermore, ExxonMobil argued that mesothelioma qualified as an occupational disease within the meaning of the WCA; Plaintiffs’ claims against ExxonMobil all related to Mr. Carson’s employment at ExxonMobil; and that Mr. Carson had failed to preserve his common law right to sue. Accordingly, the Rhode Island Superior Court did not have jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims, which properly lay before the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Commission (“WCC”).

In a detailed decision fourteen page decision, Presiding Justice Alice B. Gibney held that: 1) mesothelioma was an occupational disease within the meaning of the WCA; 2) lost earnings were not a condition precedent to the application of the exclusivity provision of the WCA; 3) Mr. Carson had not preserved his common law right to sue; 4) Plaintiffs’ claims were governed by the law at the time of his diagnosis, rather than at the time of his exposure; 5) Plaintiffs’ claim for loss of spousal consortium was derivative of the underling claims and also failed as a matter of law; 6) ExxonMobil had timely raised the WCA exclusivity provision defense in its answer; and 7) the Superior Court could not retain jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims if they were denied relief in the WCC.

A copy of the Court's decision can be found here

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