TT&H Attorneys Lou Long and Ben Peoples Prevail in Death Case in Maryland’s Court of Appeals
August 25, 2022
TT&H Attorneys Lou Long and Ben Peoples recently prevailed in Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. The matter concerned claims for wrongful death and survivor arising out of the asphyxiation death of a construction worker as the result of a trench collapse. The decedent worked for a subcontractor of a local city. Lou and Ben represented a sub-subcontractor to the decedent’s employer.
The decedent’s survivors and estate filed suit in the Circuit Court of Maryland for Baltimore City, asserting wrongful death and survivor claims. Thomas, Thomas & Hafer, LLP (“TT&H”) filed a Motion to dismiss the case, arguing that their client owned no tort duty to the decedent because the Defendant did not create or control the dangerous condition in the trench that collapsed. The Plaintiffs opposed the Motion by arguing that TT&H’s client owed a tort duty to the decedent because TT&H’s client knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and failed to correct it or warn the decedent about it. Embracing the arguments made by TT&H, the Trial Court dismissed the case and on appeal, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court affirmed. Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, granted certiorari and heard the case last spring. On August 15, 2022, the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the Lower Court’s ruling.
The issue on appeal had been the extent of the duty owed by a contractor or subcontractor, who is present at a construction site, to exercise due care in providing for the protection and safety of employees of other contractors or subcontractors with respect to conditions on the job site. The Court of Appeals held that “the duty of a contractor or subcontractor on a construction job to exercise due care to provide for the protection and safety of the employees of other contractors or subcontractors is owed with respect to conditions that the contractor or subcontractor creates or over which it exercises control.” The Court further explained, “[u]ltimately, we are unwilling to place on contractors who have not accepted any contractual or supervisory responsibility for the safety of work performed by others at a jobsite—based merely on their status as contractors—a duty enforceable in tort to protect others from potential hazards that the contractors neither created nor exercised any control over.” The Court reaffirmed that contractors and subcontractors will still be held liable when the hazardous conditions in question are created or controlled specifically by them, such that there remains a “duty to warn employees of any unreasonable risk which is either known to the contractor or subcontractor or that could have been discovered by reasonable inspection.” You can read the full opinion here.
TT&H is a 45-year-old regional defense firm with 12 offices and approximately 95 lawyers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Lou Long is a partner in the firm’s Pittsburgh office, where he focuses his practice on appellate matters. Ben Peoples is a partner in the Washington, DC office, where he spends most of his practice representing parties in catastrophic, complex and/or sensitive matters. Lou Long can be contacted at (412) 926-1424 or email@example.com, and Ben Peoples can be contacted at (202) 945-9501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.