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Reera v. A.O. Smith Corp.

Superior Court of Rhode Island

May 23, 2014

DAVID M. REERA, EXECUTOR FOR THE ESTATE OF JAMES M. REERA
v.
A.O. SMITH CORP., et al.

Providence County Superior Court

ATTORNEYS:

For Plaintiff: Vincent L. Greene, Esq. W. Mark Lanier, Esq.

For Defendant: James P. Marusak, Esq.

DECISION

GIBNEY, P.J.

Prior to his death, James M. Reera (Reera) filed this asbestos suit against a number of defendants, including Boston Edison Company (Defendant).[1] Reera's son and executor of his estate, David M. Reera (Plaintiff), now continues the lawsuit. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (Rule 56(c)), and for Entry of Final Judgment, pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (Rule 54(b)). Plaintiff objects to this motion. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

I

Facts and Travel

Plaintiff has brought a premises liability claim against Defendant arising from Reera's alleged exposure to asbestos when he worked at Defendant's Mystic Generating Station (Mystic) for approximately seven months in 1974. At that time, Reera was employed by Brand Insulation, which was a subcontractor hired to install insulation on a new boiler at Mystic's Unit 7. Reera's work included installing insulation, transporting insulation materials and tools to mechanics, and cleaning up the jobsite. Plaintiff alleges that Reera was exposed to asbestos in the course of this work at Mystic when he connected the new boiler's pipes into Unit 7's existing piping, which was encased in old insulation. Plaintiff, however, has produced no evidence suggesting that the old insulation contained asbestos or that Reera's work entailed disturbing the old insulation such that asbestos fibers were released into the ambient air. In addition to those of Brand Insulation, the employees of another subcontractor, New England Insulation, were working in the same general area at Mystic as Reera, installing and maintaining older boilers and high-pressure steam lines. Plaintiff also alleges that Reera was exposed to asbestos when the New England Insulation employees cut strips of insulation to fit onto pipes, an activity which Reera testified created a lot of "white, chalky" dust that he inhaled. In evidentiary support of this allegation, Plaintiff offers only Reera's deposition testimony in which he stated that he thought the New England Insulation workers were using asbestos insulation.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant owed Reera a duty of care to protect him from or warn him about both the existing asbestos that he allegedly encountered while connecting the pipes of the new boiler and the asbestos insulation allegedly used by the New England Insulation workers. Claiming that Defendant breached that duty, Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendant liable for Reera's contraction of and subsequent death from mesothelioma. In bringing the instant motion for summary judgment, however, Defendant asserts it is protected from liability by the independent contractor doctrine, as both Brand Insulation and New England Insulation, according to Defendant, were independent contractors. In applying the independent contractor doctrine to this case, Defendant asks the Court to apply the law of Massachusetts. Moreover, Defendant maintains that Plaintiff's premises liability claim must fail because there is no admissible evidence demonstrating that Reera was exposed to asbestos at Mystic or any other property controlled by Defendant.

II

Standard of Review

A

Summary Judgment


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