PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) – A court was wrong to issue summary judgment in a case filed by a former college hockey player who claimed he was poisoned by noxious gases at a sports arena, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has found.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the state's Superior Court on May 8 after finding that there are disputes over facts that should be decided by a jury.
In the underlying case, plaintiff Ian DeLong, a Curry College hockey player, alleged he inhaled the fumes at the Rhode Island Sports Center, which is managed by defendant DRF Arena LLC. He alleged negligence by the owner, claiming it failed to exercise reasonable care or provide adequate warnings.
DeLong claimed he and teammates became ill, including coughing up blood and respiratory problems, following the 2011 game against Johnson and Wales University. In filings, the plaintiff linked the fumes to nitrogen dioxide allegedly emitted from the Zamboni machine used to smooth the ice.
The plaintiff alleged that he began coughing up blood the next morning and sought medical treatment. He brought a negligence suit against the defendants.
A Superior Court judge issued a summary judgment in January 2016, in favor of the defendant, ruling that there was a lack of evidence of any defect that might have led to fumes being emitted. The judge cited a RI Department of Health test the following day, and DeLong's own testimony that he did not smell any fumes at the time.
“It appears from this record that there is a lack of evidence that a defective condition existed at the Sports Center on the date of the injury and it further appears that no one from the Sports Center had notice of any such defect, if there was one," a Superior Court judge stated, according to the opinion.
DeLong appealed to the higher court for review on the grounds that others, including the Curry College coach, delivered testimony that there was evidence of a smell in the arena and that they linked this to the Zamboni machine.
Justice Francis Flaherty in his written opinion stated, "In our considered opinion, the issues of fact inherent in this case necessitated a trial; there was not only one possible conclusion. Accordingly, the defendants’ alleged negligence was a question that should have been left for the jury, and it was error to dispose of the case by summary judgment."