Maryland Plaintiffs Successfully Appeal Judgment in Wrongful Death Case Against Restaurant

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.

The court first pointed out that the plain language of the statute set out four distinct exceptions, and nothing in the plain text suggested that the Legislature intended the four subsections to be treated collectively as one exception.  The court went on to conclude that the legislative history of the law indicated that each of the exceptions operated independently of one another, since subsequent amendments to include the asbestos-related cases did not alter the exception for possessors of land.  In addition, the court noted that treating “or” as having a conjunctive meaning would yield unreasonable results.

Ultimately, the court held that there were four exemptions to the statute of repose; a stand-alone exemption existed for owners, tenants, or parties otherwise in control of the property where the injury occurred, and there were three other exemptions for claims against asbestos manufacturers or suppliers.  Accordingly, the plaintiffs had a basis to argue that one or all of the defendants fell within that exemption.  The court therefore reversed the summary judgment order against the plaintiffs, allowing them to proceed with their lawsuit against the restaurant and shopping center owners.

The injury litigation team at Foran & Foran, P.A. represents Maryland plaintiffs who have been harmed by the careless conduct of individuals or companies.  Our dedicated attorneys have helped people pursue compensation in medical malpractice actions, premises liability lawsuits, wrongful death cases, and many other claims arising out of negligence.  To arrange your free initial consultation, call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Plaintiff Wins on Appeal in Slip and Fall Case Against Convenience Store, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 5, 2016

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Sides with Plaintiff Regarding Arbitration of Wrongful Death Claims, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 11, 2016

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