In a Maryland wrongful death action, family members of an accident victim seek compensation for the loss of their loved one. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently examined the statutory time limits to bring a wrongful death claim in a September 1, 2017 case. The decedent in the case had been repairing an HVAC unit on the roof of a Maryland restaurant when he fell 20 feet, suffering fatal injuries. The decedent’s survivors filed a wrongful death action, alleging negligence and premises liability claims against the shopping center, the property management company, and the restaurant. After the circuit court ruled that Maryland’s statute of repose barred the plaintiffs’ claims, they appealed to the higher court.
In Maryland, the statute of limitations provides that a person must file a wrongful death claim arising out of premises liability within three years of the date of accrual of the cause of action. The statute of repose, however, limits that period to no later than 20 years from the date that the defective and unsafe condition of the property was available for its intended use. The statute of repose also includes four subsections that indicate situations in which the 20-year limitation would not apply. The first subsection provides an exemption when the defendant was in actual possession and control of the property as owner, tenant, or otherwise when the injury occurred, as the defendants were in the current case. The remaining three subsections relate to certain asbestos manufacturers and suppliers. These four subsections are linked by the conjunction “or.”
The question for the court on appeal was whether the “or” should be interpreted as disjunctive, indicating four separate exceptions, or conjunctive, indicating that the defendant must be in actual possession of the property as well as meet the asbestos-related requirements provided in the other three subsections. To decide the matter, the court looked at the legislative history, prior amendments to the statute, and case law describing the purpose of the statute.