In a tragic Maryland wrongful death case, five people residing in a house died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their sleep. The source of the leak was a negligently installed bathroom ventilation fan, which was connected to a flue carrying carbon monoxide gas from the water heater to the roof vent. On the evening they died, someone had left on the bathroom fan. Due to the improper fan connection, the carbon monoxide entered the rooms occupied by the victims.
The spouses and children of the victims brought suit, alleging negligence claims against the home warranty company that covered repairs to appliances in the house, two independent contractors with which the home warranty company contracted to do the repairs, and other defendants. The trial court ruled that the home warranty contract absolved the independent contractors from any duty to address rust and holes in or around the flue pipes, and it granted summary judgment in favor of the independent contractor defendants. The plaintiffs appealed the matter to the higher court.
In Maryland, negligence actions generally require proof of the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. In reviewing whether the trial court erred by finding the independent contractor defendants did not owe a duty to the victims, the appeals court looked at the provisions of the contract between the home warranty company and the homeowners, as well as the agreements between the home warranty company and the independent contractors. The court held that nothing in either of the agreements limited or controlled the work that the independent contractors could perform. As a result, the home warranty company did not control the independent contractors, and nothing in the agreements precluded the existence of any other duty owed by the contractors to the victims.