Maryland Fire Accident: New Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion

The Maryland Court of Appeals decided Pittway v. Collins last month, a tragic case involving a lawsuit that arose out of a fire that took two lives in Montgomery County in 1998. The fire was caused by a burning candle in the basement, where the children – guests of the tenants of the house – were sleeping. The children lit the candle during an electrical outage caused by thunderstorms and the HVAC powered smoke detector that had no backup was not operational. Making the problem worse, the basement was a windowless basement bedroom that did not have proper egress.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against a chain of defendants on the failure to supply an adequate fire alarm: the builder, the landlord, the electrical subcontractor, the city rental inspector, and the home improvement company that renovated the basement four years earlier.

After settlements and summary judgment, everyone got out of the case except for the builder and the manufacturer. Both filed motions for summary judgment, before the discovery deadline, that intervening negligent acts superseded the claims against them. The trial court granted the motions. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed.

The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with the narrow CSA opinion that the motion to dismiss before discovery was premature. The court provides a detailed history of Maryland law on proximate cause, superseding cause, and foreseeability.