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Staring v. American Shipyard Co., LLC

Superior Court of Rhode Island

August 25, 2016

MIRANDA STARING, Individually, as the Sole Heir, Legal Beneficiary and Legal Representative of the Estate of Femmetje Staring, and on behalf of the ESTATE of FEMMETJE STARING, Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICAN SHIPYARD CO., LLC D/B/A NEWPORT SHIPYARD, LLC; ASC REALTY CO., LLC; U.S. SECURITY ASSOCIATES, INC. D/B/A D.B. KELLY ASSOCIATES; JOSHUA CARLSON; ABC CORPORATIONS and JOHN DOE Defendants.

         Newport County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Mark B. Decof, Esq. Donna M. DiDonato, Esq. Keith B. Kyle, Esq.

          For Defendant: Robert E. Collins, Esq. Tracy M. Waugh, Esq. Anthony J. Gianfrancesco, Esq. Kayla S. O'Connor, Esq.

          DECISION

          STONE, J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants American Shipyard Co., LLC, d/b/a Newport Shipyard, LLC (Newport Shipyard) and ASC Realty Co., LLC's (ASC) (collectively, Defendants) Motion for Leave to File a Third Party Complaint Against the Estate of Jennifer Way. The Motion was filed on February 25, 2016, and the Court heard arguments from the parties on May 2, 2016. At the close of the hearing, the Court indicated that it would grant the Defendants' Motion and that it would issue a written decision. Decision is herein rendered in favor of the Defendants to file a third-party complaint. Jurisdiction in this Court is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14 and Super. R. Civ. P. 14 (Rule 14).

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The underlying factual background of this case originates out of a car accident that occurred in the early morning hours of October 5, 2012. Earlier that evening, Jennifer Way (Way), Femmetje Staring (Staring), and Sara Louise Owen (Owen) attended a birthday party at the Fastnet Pub in Newport, Rhode Island. At some point, the trio decided to leave the party and go to the S/V HYPERION. Owen was a crewmember aboard that vessel, and the S/V HYPERION was then docked at the Newport Shipyard.

         When they departed, Way was driving the vehicle with Staring and Owen riding along as her passengers. After entering Newport Shipyard, Way missed a right-hand turn that would have taken her to the S/V HYPERION. She then continued down a path that caused her to travel off of the pier at the travel lift and into the harbor. As a result of the crash, all three of the vehicle's occupants perished.

         An autopsy was conducted on Way, and it revealed that she was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident. The autopsy report concluded that there was "a large amount of alcohol in the femoral blood and vitreous humor, and this acute intoxication may have played a role in the circumstances of the motor vehicle mishap and subsequent drowning event."[1] On December 14, 2015, the Estate of Jennifer Way was established. Counsel for the Defendants petitioned to have the Estate of Jennifer Way opened.

         The preceding factual background gave rise to several lawsuits. On July 23, 2013, Gregory Way, Diane Way (the Ways), and Shannon T. Breault filed a lawsuit in this Court-NC-2013-0305. Roughly a year later, the instant lawsuit was filed on August 21, 2014 by Miranda Staring and the Estate of Femmetje Staring (collectively, Plaintiffs). Those two suits were consolidated for discovery purposes by Order of this Court on April 16, 2015. Additionally, on September 30, 2015, Owen's parents, Sarah Margaret Owen and John Norton Owen, as executors of Owen's Estate and in their individual capacity, filed a civil action against Newport Shipyard and ASC in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island.

         Defendants filed the present Motion on February 25, 2016, seeking leave to file a third-party complaint against the Estate of Jennifer Way, seeking contribution, indemnity, and forwarding various theories of negligence. Thereafter, on March 8 2016, Plaintiffs filed an objection. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on May 2, 2016. Essentially, the objection pressed by counsel for the Ways in the sister-action was that there was no money in the Estate of Jennifer Way for Defendants to collect on. Therefore, he argued that it would be a nullity or futile for the Court to grant the Defendants' Motion. Counsel for the Ways also argued that the only reason Defendants sought to add Way's estate was to open the door to argue comparative negligence to the jury at trial. After hearing arguments from all the parties, the Court indicated that it would issue a written decision on the matter.

         II

         Standard ...


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