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Phelps v. Hebert

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 27, 2014

Kimberly S. Phelps et al.
v.
Gregory Hebert et al

Page 943

Kent County Superior Court. (KC 09-416). Associate Justice Allen P. Rubine.

For Plaintiffs: Christopher E. Hultquist, Esq.

For Defendants: Joseph A. DiMaio, Esq.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION

Page 944

Goldberg, Justice.

This case arises out of claims of negligence and wrongful death brought by the plaintiffs, Kimberly S. Phelps and Thomas Phelps (collectively, plaintiffs), individually and as co-administrators of the Estate of Ashley R. Phelps, alleging that two named defendants, Leo R. Pelletier and Susan Pelletier (collectively, defendants or Pelletiers), negligently allowed a guest at their son's graduation party to operate an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) in a reckless manner, resulting in the death of the plaintiffs' daughter, Ashley. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue that a Superior Court justice erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. This case came before the Supreme Court on April 2, 2014, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues presented in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After a thorough review of the arguments and the memoranda submitted by the parties, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown and thus the appeal may be decided at this time. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

Facts and Travel

The tragic events giving rise to this case began on June 23, 2007, when the Pelletiers hosted a party at their home, located at 51 Sharon Drive in Coventry, Rhode Island, to celebrate the college graduation of their son, Ross. Approximately eighty people were invited to the party, including Gregory Hebert (Hebert), Ross's friend from high school. Although the party was an all-day event, Hebert arrived in the afternoon, with a case of beer as a gift for Ross. According to Hebert, during his time at the party he consumed " no more than two beers," and did not drink any of the alcoholic beverages that were supplied by the Pelletiers.[1]

Later that evening, Hebert left the party with Michael S. Vingi (Vingi) in order to retrieve a recently purchased ATV from his home. Vingi drove Hebert's pickup truck to the house, where Hebert retrieved the ATV from a locked shed on the property. Hebert then drove the ATV " a mile or two" back to the party, with Vingi following in the pickup truck. Once they arrived at the Pelletiers' house, Hebert left the ATV in the front yar--near other ATVs in the driveway--and proceeded to rejoin the party in the backyard. Rosalyn Smith (Smith), a guest at the party, asked Hebert for a ride on his ATV. Despite the fact that the ATV was designed for only one person, Hebert agreed. Before embarking, Hebert asked Smith if she wanted to wear a helmet; Smith declined and Hebert drove the ATV--with Smith on the back--down Sharon Drive, where they stopped to talk to Smith's brother, who

Page 945

lived at the end of the street. Hebert and Smith then returned to the Pelletiers' house on the ATV.

At approximately 10:15 p.m., Ashley Phelps (Ashley or decedent) requested a ride on Hebert's ATV. Hebert offered Ashley a helmet--which she declined--and asked her to dispose of her drink and cigarette before climbing on the vehicle. With Ashley on the back of the ATV, Hebert proceeded down the driveway toward Mrs. Pelletier. According to Hebert, Mrs. Pelletier moved a party cooler in order for Hebert to maneuver the ATV and gain access to the street. Although Hebert stated that he could not recall if Mrs. Pelletier said anything to him at that point, Mrs. Pelletier stated in her deposition testimony that she did not move the cooler to allow the ATV to pass; however, she testified that she told Hebert that the party was neither the " time [n]or place" for ATV rides, to which Ashley replied that Hebert was " a good driver." It is undisputed that Hebert then left the Pelletiers' property and traveled down the street, where he crashed the ATV, causing ...


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