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Matt is a partner in the Providence, Rhode Island office, and a member of the firm’s Complex Litigation Practice Group. He focuses his practice in the areas of products liability defense, mass torts, and other complex tort litigation as well as employment law, general liability insurance defense, and maritime law. Matt’s work experience includes representing corporate clients in all phases of civil litigation. He routinely defends clients against claims arising in negligence, breach of contract, breach of warranty, wrongful death, and failure to warn. Matt serves as Regional Counsel for a leading aeronautics company. In this role, he is responsible for the coordination and management of the client’s litigation throughout the Mid-Atlantic and South. Additionally, Matt handles a variety of employment-related discrimination cases and premise liability actions.

On November 11, 2013, Timothy Frazier allegedly slipped and fell in a fast food restaurant restroom owned and operated by Mita Enterprises, LLC (“Mita”).  Frazier v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., No. 2018-288-Appeal, 2020 WL 3117048, at *1 (R.I. June 12, 2020).  Three years later, in November 2016, Frazier filed suit against Mita to recover damages for his alleged injuries.  Id.  Mita, however, failed to respond to Mita’s complaint and Frazier filed a motion to default for Mita’s failure to respond to the complaint.  Id.  The Rhode Island Superior Court granted Frazier’s motion and default entered.  Id.  Subsequently, Mita filed a motion to vacate the entry of default and to dismiss the case for lack of sufficient service of process.  Id.  The first trial judge granted Mita’s motions and the case was dismissed on August 4, 2017.  Id.

Frazier later filed a new complaint against Mita in July 2017.  Id.  The process server, however, returned the summons non est inventus (“he is not found”), as Mita was not located.  Id.  Pursuant to Rule 21 of the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, Frazier then moved to substitute Liberty Mutual, Mita’s insurance carrier, as a defendant.  Id.  Objecting to Frazier’s motion, Liberty Mutual argued, in part, that the statute of limitations barred Frazier’s claim.  Id.  Before addressing Liberty Mutual’s defense, however, Frazier renewed his motion to substitute and moved to amend his complaint.  Id.  The parties subsequently agreed that Frazier’s motion to substitute would be granted, but that Liberty Mutual reserved the right to assert any and all defenses, including the statute of limitations defense.  Id.  After Frazier amended his complaint on April 9, 2018, Liberty Mutual moved to dismiss it by arguing that the applicable statute of limitations barred Frazier’s claim.  Id. at *2.  In opposition to Liberty Mutual’s motion, Frazier relied on Rhode Island’s savings statute, arguing that Liberty Mutual was not a stranger to the first action against Mita, and thus, his claim was preserved for an additional year.  Id.  Rhode Island’s savings statute, R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-22, provides that:

If an action is timely commenced and is terminated in any other manner than by a voluntary discontinuance, a dismissal of the complaint for neglect to prosecute the action, or a final judgment upon the merits, [the plaintiff] may commence a new action upon the same claim within one year after the termination.”  G.L. 1956 § 9-1-22.

The second trial justice disagreed with Frazier and granted Liberty Mutual’s motion reasoning that Frazier’s claim was not preserved by the savings statute and was barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations.  Frazier, 2020 WL 3117048, at *2.  Frazier timely appealed.  Id.

On appeal, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the second trial judge erred in granting Liberty Mutual’s motion to dismiss because Mita and Liberty Mutual shared “a sufficient commonality of interest,” and, thus, Liberty Mutual was not a “stranger to the original action.”   Id. at *4 (quoting Luft v. Factory Mut. Liability
Continue Reading Rhode Island’s Supreme Court Makes Friends between Insured and Insurer “Strangers”

Talk is cheap…until lawyers get involved.

“Lawyers: are persons who write a 10,000 word document and call it a brief.” – Franz Kafka

Mouthpiece: n. old-fashion slang for one’s lawyer. Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, 4E. (2007). Retrieved August 8, 2018, from https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/mouthpiece

There are thousands of sated comedians in the world who make a living off the caricature of loquacious litigators. Indeed, it is probably a fair statement that attorneys like to talk. Attend any bar event anywhere in the country and, more likely than not, you will find a group attorneys exchanging war stories. Lawyers, especially trial attorneys, relish opportunities to reminisce about trials won, how incomprehensible it is that they lost a “slam dunk” motion, or the occasional client they never want to see again.

Most of the time, idle attorney chatter over rubber chicken bar association dinners is entirely benign. However, public statements made by an attorney during a trial or the pendency of case that may go to trial is consequential all of the time. This is because, as Chief Justice Rehnquist observed, “a lawyer’s extrajudicial statements pose a threat to the fairness of a trial due to an attorney’s special access to information.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1031, 1071 (1991). In theory, an attorney’s comments on the scope of evidence or a case’s merits could predispose a jury pool and, thus, unintentionally (or deliberately) prejudice a judicial outcome.


Continue Reading Trial Publicity: Public Statements Made by an Attorney during Court Proceedings have Limits

In DeLong v. Rhode Island Sports Center, Inc., et al., a former college hockey player successfully appealed a Rhode Island Superior Court decision granting an ice rink’s motion for summary judgment in a case alleging that he was poisoned by an ice resurfacer after finding that circumstantial evidence present in the record was sufficient to raise a factual dispute. 182 A.3d 1129 (R.I. 2018).

The plaintiff alleged that he inhaled noxious fumes that emanated from a malfunctioning ice resurfacer while playing in an ice hockey game at an enclosed arena in February, 2011. However, the plaintiff’s first indication that he had breathed injurious air resurfacing machine air did not come until the following morning when he and a teammate visited an emergency room after coughing up blood, from which doctors deduced that the plaintiff suffered from an acute lung injury as a result of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide poisoning.

Accordingly, the plaintiff filed suit alleging that the ice rink defendants: negligently maintained their facility by allowing noxious fumes to permeate the air; failed to exercise reasonable care; or failed to provide adequate warnings. However, following discovery, the defendants successfully persuaded the trial court to grant summary judgment. “They argued that there were no genuine issues of material fact regarding (1) the existence of a dangerous or defective condition; (2) the notice to defendants of any such condition; and (3) the causal connection between that condition and any injury that may have been sustained by plaintiff.” Id. at 1131.

Specifically, the defendants pointed to: the plaintiff’s deposition testimony that he neither saw nor smelled any unusual fumes while at the ice rink; the lack of scientific evidence as to the air quality in the arena on the night in question; and evidence that the ice rink attendant’s twice-daily notation of the air quality had shown zero carbon monoxide, which the Rhode Island Department of Health confirmed the following day. Moreover, the ice rink’s facilities manager and the ice resurfacing machine driver each testified that neither was aware of any complaints regarding noxious fumes. The trial court, furthermore, intimated that the plaintiff’s “sickness was from another source, independent of the defendant’s facility” because the Department of Health’s testing was “more objective” and because the only people who fell ill were from the college hockey team. Id. at 1133. Based on this, the trial court granted summary judgment ruling that a lack of evidence that a defective condition existed at the sports center on day of the hockey game and it appeared that no one from the ice rink had notice of any such defect, if there was one.

On appeal, however, the plaintiff noted that: (1) the Department of Health does not and did not test nitrogen dioxide levels and did not test carbon monoxide levels until a day after the alleged incident, implying that poisonous ice resurfacer emissions had subsided by the time testing occurred; (2) his teammates and coach stated that they
Continue Reading Ice Resurfacer Poisoning Demonstrates High Summary Judgment Threshold

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On Friday, April 28, 2017, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed, in its entirety, John and Michele Clark’s asbestos personal injury action based on the doctrine of judicial estoppel. In short, the Court ruled that the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit could not proceed without damaging the integrity and proper functioning of the judicial system. The reason: Plaintiffs did not disclose their personal injury claims before receiving their Chapter 13 Bankruptcy discharge.

The background of Plaintiffs’ personal injury lawsuit is entwined with two other actions. First, Plaintiffs filed for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in Connecticut in February 2010. A Bankruptcy Plan was confirmed approximately five months later, in July 2010. In March 2016, Plaintiffs declared that they had made all their payments as prescribed by their bankruptcy plan and requested that the bankruptcy court issue an order discharging their debts. The bankruptcy court entered such an order in August 2016.

Second, in August 2015—a year before the Chapter 13 petition was discharged—Plaintiffs filed an asbestos-related personal injury action in Illinois state court. The Illinois suit came about one month after Mr. Clark was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Clark’s illness was caused by exposure to asbestos during his service in the United States Air Force as well as his employment with an aircraft manufacturer. Plaintiffs, however, did not inform the bankruptcy court of their asbestos claims, as bankruptcy law requires. Indeed, in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, petitioners have an ongoing obligation to disclose any asset that accrues between the initiation and closing of their bankruptcy case as “[e]very conceivable interest of the debtor, future, nonpossessory, contingent, speculative, and derivative, is within the reach of [the bankruptcy estate].” Chartschlaa v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 538 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2008). Thus, by not amending their Chapter 13 schedules, Plaintiffs, in effect, were concealing an asset that rightfully belonged in their bankruptcy trustee’s care. Accordingly, after a defendant informed Plaintiffs of its intention to file a motion to dismiss based on judicial estoppel owing to their failure to disclose the existence of their Illinois action, Plaintiffs’ voluntarily dismissed the Illinois lawsuit.

Then, in July 2016—again, while Plaintiffs’ bankruptcy case was still open—Plaintiffs filed a second asbestos personal injury suit raising the same claims as those raised in Illinois, but this time in New York state court. Shortly thereafter, the defendants in the New York action removed the case to the Southern District and Plaintiffs’ bankruptcy case closed, without Plaintiffs ever amending their Chapter 13 schedules. The New York defendants then promptly filed their motion to dismiss based on judicial estoppel.

The defendants argued that Plaintiffs’ claims had to be judicially estopped as a matter of law because Plaintiffs took inconsistent positions before the Bankruptcy Court and the Southern District. On the one hand, Plaintiffs, by not fulfilling their statutory obligation to amend their schedule of assets in the bankruptcy case, declared that they had no foreseeable assets owing to them. On the other
Continue Reading S.D.N.Y. Tells Plaintiffs: “Stop! You Cannot Sue, You Changed Your Story”

battleshipIt is no secret that, in many instances, injured tort plaintiffs would prefer to file their cases in state court as opposed to federal court. One of the many reasons for this preference is that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure place express limits on the amount of discovery available to parties.  Further, the Federal Rules of Evidence tend to be more stringent, as are requirements for expert witnesses.  These, and the notion that federal courts tend to grant motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment more frequently and award lower verdicts, means that plaintiffs would often rather file their cases in state court and conversely, defendants often prefer to litigate these cases in federal court. Consequently, when possible, defendants often will remove a case filed in state court to the applicable U.S. District Court where the state action was pending. One such method of removal is found in 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), the federal-officer removal statute. Specifically, § 1442(a)(1) allows a defendant that acted under any United States agency or officer to remove a plaintiff’s suit to federal court if any of the alleged claims or defenses relate to “any act under color of such office.” This is a frequently used tool of military contractors to get their government contractor defense heard by a federal court.

Government contractor immunity is a recognized federal defense based on public policy (See Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988)). It is an offshoot of the governmental immunity doctrine codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2680, which insulates the federal government from suit in relation to the performance of its discretionary actions. Military contractors may be extended the benefits of §2680 in a product liability action if they can demonstrate that: (1) the government “approved reasonably precise specifications” for their product; (2) the product conformed to those specifications; and (3) the contractor warned the government about the dangers in the use of the product that were known to it but not to the government.”  Boyle, 487 U.S. at 512.

Military contractors of all stripes expressed a collective sigh of relief on January 20, 2017, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals fortified the federal officer removal statute in Zeringue v. Crane Co., 2017 WL 279496 (5th Cir. 2017), a decision which overturned the Eastern District of Louisiana’s remand of an asbestos plaintiff’s suit to Orleans Parish District Court. In Zeringue, the Plaintiff filed suit in Louisiana state court alleging that he first was exposed to asbestos while serving aboard U.S. Navy ships during the 1950s. Crane, one of more than twenty defendants in the case, was a major supplier of asbestos-containing valves, among other equipment, to the Navy. Accordingly, Crane invoked the federal officer removal statute so that it could litigate the case in federal district court. It argued that removal was proper because “any product [Zeringue] alleges Crane Co. manufactured for or supplied to the Navy (and any product literature, labeling, or warnings
Continue Reading Recent Fifth Circuit Ruling a Relief to United States Government Equipment Suppliers