The Maryland Court of Special Appeals released an opinion in the case of Cash & Carry Am., Inc. v. Roof Solutions, Inc., 117 A.3d 52 (2015), providing a detailed explanation of the duty of care in a negligence action. The plaintiff in the case brought a negligence action against a contractor and subcontractor, alleging that their negligence caused a fire that damaged property belonging to his business. The question before the court was whether a roofing contractor who performs work on a structure owes a duty of care in tort to a third-party owner of personal property inside the structure. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that under the circumstances of the case, the roofing contractor did owe a duty of care to the third party, reversing the ruling of the lower court.
In Cash & Carry, the homeowner contracted with the defendants to replace the roof of his townhouse. A fire started on the roof when a torch used to heat tar paper ignited the wooden framework of the townhouse. The fire department put out the fire, but the water leaked into the house, damaging computers belonging to the homeowner’s business. The business brought a negligence action against the roofing contractors, seeking compensation for the damage caused by the fire. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that they did not owe any legal duty to the business, which was not a party to the contract.
To establish a negligence case, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed him a duty of care, that the duty was breached, that the breach caused the harm suffered, and that damages were incurred. The Court of Special Appeals recognized that central to the question of whether a duty of care exists is the relationship between the parties and the nature of the risk of harm created by the defendant’s conduct, or its foreseeability. The court stated that a reasonably prudent roofing contractor would know that accidentally setting fire to the roof would create a risk of personal injury, death, and damage to tangible property, and that such risks are not solely confined to the owner of the structure. The court further stated that it is not necessary to prove contractual privity or another special relationship between the contractor and a third party whose tangible personal property was inside the structure, nor that the contractor knew that the third party’s personal property was inside. Therefore, the court held that the business could bring a negligence claim against the roofing contractors for damage to its property. However, the court did draw the line at recovery for non-tangible personal property and economic damages, stating that it was not reasonably foreseeable for the defendants in this case to anticipate that its negligence could result in lost profits to a business of a third party, based on damage to its property.
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More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 24, 2015
Maryland Court Allows Habit Evidence of Doctor in Medical Malpractice Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015