Joseph Caffey et al.
County Superior Court (PM 15-5649) Jeffrey A. Lanphear
Plaintiffs George T. Gilson, Esq.
Defendant Ronald J. Resmini, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Gilbert V. Indeglia Associate Justice
Lees (Lees) appeals from the entry of judgment vacating an
arbitration award in his favor, and instead, finding for
Joseph Caffey(Caffey) and Omni Development
Corporation. This matter came before the Supreme Court
on December 7, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the
parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised should
not be summarily decided. After considering the arguments set
forth in the parties' memoranda and at oral argument, we
are convinced that cause has not been shown. Thus, further
argument or briefing is not required to decide this matter.
For the reasons outlined below, we vacate the judgment of the
28, 2011, Caffey lost consciousness while operating his
vehicle due to health complications, causing an automobile
accident in Seekonk, Massachusetts. Lees was a passenger in
the car that Caffey rear-ended. Lees alleged that he suffered
constant back issues that ultimately required surgery as a
result of that accident. The parties attempted to resolve the
matter through arbitration.
February 4, 2014, the parties executed a binding arbitration
agreement that stipulated to a high/low award starting at $9,
000 and capped at $160, 000 with no interest. The parties
agreed to waive their rights to a jury trial and "any
appeals of the * * * arbitration hearing to the extent
permitted by Rhode Island law * * *." The agreement
provided that it would be "governed by, construed and
enforced in accordance with the laws of the State
[sic] of Massachusetts, " and contemplated that
any petitions relating to the arbitration would be filed in
accordance with the Rhode Island Arbitration Act, G.L. 1956
chapter 3 of title 10.
side presented evidence to an arbitrator, who had been agreed
upon by the parties, at a two-day arbitration hearing on
November 25, 2014 and February 4, 2015. During the
arbitration, Caffey contested both liability and damages.
Caffey argued that the accident was not the proximate cause
of Lees' back injury for which he required surgery
because Lees initially suffered a back injury ten years prior
to the accident. Doctor Mark Palumbo had performed back
surgery on Lees in both 2001 and 2009. Lees stated that he
saw Dr. Palumbo seventeen days before the accident and, at
that time, Dr. Palumbo noted that he saw no indication that
Lees needed further surgery. After returning to work
following the accident, Lees claimed that he started to feel
pain in his lower back and left leg. Palumbo performed
another back surgery on Lees on September 19, 2011, nearly
four months after the accident.
November 25, 2014 hearing, Lees presented an affidavit from
Dr. Palumbo pursuant to Rhode Island law that was dated
November 7, 2013, which stated that the accident
"exacerbated and/or worsened" Lees'
"condition" and the "services rendered"
were "proximately caused" by the accident. In
response, Caffey sought to depose Dr. Palumbo. Lees then
withdrew the affidavit. Subsequently, Lees offered a second
affidavit to replace the first one, this time pursuant to
Massachusetts law, signed on August 4, 2014, in which Dr.
Palumbo also asserted that a causal relationship existed
between the accident and the surgery. Caffey's objection
to this affidavit was sustained.
January 2, 2015, Lees' attorney sent a third affidavit to
the arbitrator,  which Dr. Palumbo had signed on December
30, 2014, again concluding that there was a causal
relationship between the injury that required surgery and the
collision. Caffey's attorney was not informed of this
third affidavit submitted to the arbitrator until the
February 4, 2015 arbitration hearing.
response to the third affidavit, Dr. Palumbo was deposed in
June 2015. It was at this deposition that Caffey first
learned of a January 24, 2012 letter from Dr. Palumbo to
Lees' counsel indicating that he did not connect
Lees' surgery to the accident. Specifically, he wrote
that he was "not able to causally relate [Lees'] * *
* recently performed operation to the incident ...