R.I. justices reject Canadian asbestos cases

By Chris Rizo | May 14, 2008

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) -The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ordered 39 asbestos cases that Canadian residents had filed in the state to be dismissed.

Although the lawsuits were filed against corporations that conduct business in the Ocean State, none of the defendants-including General Electric Co. and Union Carbide Chemicals and Plastics Company Inc.-are incorporated or has its principal place of business in Rhode Island.

Moreover, the court found that each of the plaintiffs is a Canadian resident whose employment, exposure and treatment occurred in Canada.

"Our courts in Rhode Island must stand open to provide remedies to those who have been injured and to treat all litigants fairly," Justice Paul Suttell wrote for the majority.

"Our courts, however, need not resolve disputes of all persons who choose to file suit in Rhode Island. In the 39 cases under review, we are unable to discern any nexus with the state of Rhode Island," the justice added.

The case came to the state's high court after state Superior Court Judge Alice Gibney in May 2005 ruled that since Rhode Island doesn't generally recognize the doctrine of forum non conveniens, which requires a local nexus to the case, the lawsuits could go forward.

The Supreme Court justices disagreed.

"A jury may have to sit through a complicated trial that literally has no connection to Rhode Island besides a generalized interest that is constant throughout the entire United States," the Supreme Court's 23-page ruling said.

Among groups that filed briefs in the case was the National Association of Manufacturers.

The high court's decision to dismiss the cases drew praise from the American Tort Reform Association.

The group said if plaintiffs are not required to demonstrate a nexus between a case and the jurisdiction in which they are attempting to have it tried, trial lawyers can forum shop, where they look for friendlier judges and the possibility of larger awards.

"When personal injury lawyers looking to maximize their profits engage in forum shopping, taxpayers and citizens in targeted jurisdictions pay the price," ATRA President Tiger Joyce said in a statement.

"Court resources are expended on cases with no connection to local taxpayers, and jurors' are similarly forced to commit their valuable time − sometimes weeks or months − for complicated civil trials that also delay cases that should be heard in those jurisdictions," Joyce added.

The case is Kedy v. A.W. Chesterton Co.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com. Legal Newsline writer Alex Cortes contributed to this report.

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National Association of Manufacturers State of Rhode Island

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