Most civil legal actions must be filed within prescribed periods, known as the statute of limitations and the statute of repose, or the plaintiffs may be barred from bringing suit. However, there are exceptions, and in some cases, Maryland law may allow plaintiffs to pursue a their claim long after the allegedly negligent actions of the defendants. In a June 25, 2018 Maryland wrongful death case, the Court of Appeals considered whether the plaintiffs could hold the defendants liable under an exception to the statute of repose.
The victim in the case needed access to the roof of a restaurant to repair an HVAC unit. He placed a ladder on an exterior wall of the building that seemingly led to the roof, but instead, simply enclosed an open air area. After mounting the wall, the plaintiff fell 20 feet over the other side, sustaining fatal injuries. The plaintiffs filed suit against several defendants, including the owner and the manager of the shopping center in which the restaurant was located. The building, however, was completed 22 years ago, which was beyond the 20 year limit imposed by the state of repose. The defendants argued that the exception to the statute of repose asserted by the plaintiffs only applied in asbestos cases.
A statute of repose shields certain groups, designated by the legislature, from liability after a certain period of time. Under Maryland’s statute of repose, a plaintiff is prohibited from bringing a claim for wrongful death resulting from an improvement to real property more than 20 years after the improvement. There are exceptions to the statute listed in its subsections. The first is a possession and control exception, which allows the plaintiff to bring an action against a defendant who was in actual possession and control of the property as owner, tenant, or otherwise when the injury occurred, despite the statute of repose. While the other subsections of the statute relate to claims against manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos products, the possession and control exception makes no mention of them.