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R.I. Supreme Court affirms judgment for nurses sued for negligence

By Sara McCleary | Dec 28, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) – The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s summary judgment dismissing a negligence case against two nurses.

The Dec. 8 opinion, written by Associate Justice Francis X. Flaherty, held that a statute setting out that a master and servant, or principal and agent, are considered a single tortfeasor, had been correctly applied by the lower court.

According to the opinion, plaintiff Michelle Hall had filed her first suit against Tavares Pediatric Center in March 2015, alleging that while in the center’s care, her daughter suffered serious injuries. 

Tavares settled the allegations of negligence and loss of consortium, and the case was dismissed. The settlement included a joint tortfeasor release, preventing Hall from making further claims against the medical center and its insurer regarding her daughter’s care, but specifically excluded Tavares employees and medical staff.

After reaching the settlement with Tavares, Hall brought another suit alleging negligence and loss of consortium arising from her daughter’s care, this one against nurses Colleen Belmonte and Kim Hornby.

The nurses moved for summary judgment, arguing that Hall’s claims were barred due to the master-servant relationship statute. 

Because Hall had released Tavares of liability, it followed that as servants, or agents, of the center, the nurses must be released as well. The trial justice accepted the nurses’ argument and granted the motion for summary judgment, which Hall appealed.

Upon review, the Supreme Court found that “the simple, direct, and unambiguous language of the statute forecloses plaintiff’s claims,” reads Flaherty’s decision. 

Hall argued that certain types of liability are not included when one party releases another from liability, but the court found that the statute in question does not make any such distinction, so must be applied to Hall’s claims.

Hall further argued that she had specifically preserved her ability to bring suit against the nurses when creating the joint tortfeasor release, but again the court rejected this argument, with Flaherty writing that the release “cannot override the statute’s crystal-clear mandate that Tavares and the defendants, as master and servants, ‘shall be considered a single tortfeasor.’”

Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell and Justices Maureen McKenna Goldberg, William P. Robinson III and Gilbert V. Indeglia concurred.

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Rhode Island Supreme Court