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.
Whether a duty exists is a policy question of whether a specific plaintiff is entitled to protection from the acts of the defendant. The courts will look at the facts and circumstances of the relationship between the parties, the nature of the business of the defendant, the likelihood of harm from a failure to exercise care, and other considerations. The appeals court concluded that there was a foreseeable risk of injury or death if a dangerous condition was ignored during a home inspection, and under such circumstances, the independent contractors had a duty to exercise reasonable care in performing their work. Their duties included a duty to inspect the visible portions of the flute for signs of rust and corrosion and, if significant rust or corrosion was found, to either warn the homeowner or take other reasonable steps to protect the occupants of the home from carbon monoxide escaping from the flue. Accordingly, the court reversed summary judgment and remanded the case for the plaintiffs to pursue their claims against the defendants.
The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can help people determine their legal recourse after an accident. We have successfully represented plaintiffs in premises liability claims arising out of slip and fall accidents, motor vehicle and semi-truck collisions, and many other accidents caused by careless businesses or individuals. To schedule a free consultation, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or use the contact form on our website.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court Rules for Plaintiff in Wrongful Death Appeal Regarding Venue, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published April 25, 2017
Maryland Plaintiff Appeals Decision in Lead-Based Paint Case Against Daycare Property Owner, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 26, 2017