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Lambert v. N. Parascandolo & Sons, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island

January 29, 2016

MARK W. LAMBERT, and DEBRA L. LAMBERT, Plaintiffs,
v.
N. PARASCANDOLO & SONS, INC. and H.N. WILCOX FISHING, INC., Defendants.

For Plaintiff: Mark B. Decof, Esq.; Michael P. Quinn, Jr., Esq.; Richard S. Humphrey, Esq.

For Defendant: Mark W. Shaughnessy, Esq.; Scott M. Carroll, Esq.

DECISION

STONE, J.

Before the Court are various post-trial motions filed by the Defendants in this negligence action. The Court presided over a jury trial in this case from September 28, 2015 to October 15, 2015, and the jury returned a verdict that both Defendants were liable to Plaintiff Mark W. Lambert (Mr. Lambert or Plaintiff) for the injuries he suffered on April 30, 2013. On October 23, 2015, N. Parascandolo & Sons, Inc. (Parascandolo) and H.N. Wilcox Fishing, Inc. (Wilcox) (collectively, Defendants) both filed post-trial motions with the Court. Therein, each renewed their motions for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial. In turn, Plaintiffs have objected to Defendants' motions. The Court held a hearing on November 5, 2015. Jurisdiction is pursuant to Rules 50 and 59 of the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

I

Facts and Travel

Although the details of the trial need not be extensively reiterated, some, of course, are pertinent with respect to the instant motions. Mr. Lambert was a commercial fisherman for over forty years, spending much of that time fishing out of Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The two business entities involved, Wilcox and Parascandolo, were owned, and chiefly operated, by the Parascandolo family. The businesses owned a dock at Sakonnet Point where fishermen could unload their catch and package it. There was also a sorting and sales component of the businesses located in Newport, Rhode Island. Together, those businesses bought seafood directly from fishermen, like Mr. Lambert, and then sold it on the retail market.

On April 30, 2013, Mr. Lambert returned from a day at sea to unload his catch at the Sakonnet Point dock (the Dock) owned by Wilcox. In order to unload his catch from the boat, he used the winch located on the dock, which was provided and maintained by Wilcox and employees of Parascandolo.[1] However, while using the winch, he experienced what is known as a "riding turn."[2] The riding turn caused the rope Mr. Lambert was holding to be pulled toward the winch drum-which continued to spin-entangling, and ultimately severing, much of his right arm.

As a result of the injuries he suffered, Mr. Lambert and his wife, Debra L. Lambert (collectively, Plaintiffs or the Lamberts), filed the instant action against Wilcox, Parascandolo, and N. Parascandolo & Sons Transportation, Inc.[3] All three of these businesses were owned by the Parascandolo family, but they are separate legal entities. Wilcox's alleged liability arose out of its duty, as the property owner, to maintain the winch in a reasonably safe condition. Meanwhile, Parascandolo's liability was allegedly attributable to the actions of Alan Parascandolo-a member of the Parascandolo family and employed by defendant Parascandolo-who was the primary, if not only, employee at the Dock during the time period surrounding Mr. Lambert's injuries.

Over the course of the two week trial, the jury heard testimony from many witnesses.[4]Two were Anthony and Alan Parascandolo, who-amongst other things- testified about their duties at the Dock. Notably, over the relevant time period, Anthony Parascandolo's presence at the Dock was significantly reduced. This left his less experienced brother Alan in charge of the day-to-day operations at the Dock.

The jury also heard from Greg Mataronas, Kevin Sullivan, and Earnest St. Laurent-all of whom were fishermen who unloaded and sold their catch at the Dock in the months leading up to Mr. Lambert's injuries. To a man, the fishermen denied ever discussing the condition of the rope with Mr. Lambert during the early months of 2013. Lastly, there was testimony from Mr. Lambert and his deck hand, Stephen Menard, who-along with Alan Parascandolo-were the only individuals present at the Dock on April 30, 2013 at the time of Mr. Lambert's injuries.

Both at the close of Plaintiffs' case and again prior to the jury being charged, the Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law. Both times, the arguments were founded on the contention that Mr. Lambert could not sufficiently show that the condition of the rope was the cause of his riding turn and, therefore, his injuries. Additionally, Parascandolo alleged that there was insufficient evidence to show it owed a duty to anyone with regard to the subject winch. Both times, this Court denied the Defendants' motions.

Prior to the jury being charged, both Defendants objected to the Court's decision to exclude an instruction on comparative negligence. After deliberating for two days, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Lamberts on their respective claims.[5] Mr. Lambert was awarded $2, 434, 600, and his wife received $259, 000. Accordingly, the Court entered judgment on October 15, 2015.

Now, both Defendants submit similar arguments in asking this Court to dismiss the jury verdict and grant them judgment as a matter of law. However, at this late stage in the litigation, Defendants also ask alternatively if the Court denies their renewed judgment as a matter of law motions, that the Court grant their Motion for a New Trial because they were entitled to a jury instruction on comparative negligence. Both motions are timely and will be addressed in seriatim below.

II

Standard of Review

Rule 50 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure governs Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law. It provides in pertinent part:

"If during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue, the court may determine the issue against that party and may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against that party with respect to a claim or defense that cannot under the controlling law be maintained or defeated without a favorable finding on that issue." Super. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1).

When addressing a renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, the trial justice must "'consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is made without weighing the evidence or considering the credibility of the witnesses and extract from that record only those reasonable inferences that support the position of the party opposing the motion . . . .'" Blue Coast, Inc. v. Suarez Corp. Indus., 870 A.2d 997, 1009 (R.I. 2005) (quoting AAA Pool Service & Supply, Inc. v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co., 479 A.2d 112, 115 (R.I. 1984)).

The motion must be denied "if there are factual issues upon which reasonable people may have differing conclusions." Broadley v. State, 939 A.2d 1016, 1020 (R.I. 2008). "However, if the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence is that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover, then the motion must be granted." Kenney Mfg. Co. v. Starkweather & Shepley, Inc., 643 A.2d 203, 206 (R.I. 1994) (citing Hulton v. Phaneuf, 85 R.I. 406, 410, 132 A.2d 85, 88 (1957)). Thus, for Defendants to prevail on their motions, the Court must find that no reasonable jury could have found for Plaintiffs based upon the evidence presented. See McLaughlin v. Moura, 754 A.2d 95, 98 (R.I. 2000).

Rule 59 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure governs the granting of a new trial. It provides in pertinent part:

"A new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all or part of the issues for error of law occurring at the trial or for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in the courts of this state." Super. R. Civ. P. 59(a).

When ruling on a motion for a new trial, the trial justice functions as a "super juror." Candido v. Univ. of Rhode Island, 880 A.2d 853, 856 (R.I. 2005). In carrying out that role, the trial justice must review the evidence and assess credibility. Crafford Precision Prods. Co. v. Equilasers, Inc., 850 ...


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