Boiler Manufacturers Obtain Summary Judgment Based on Statute of Repose Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, May 27, 2016
In this case, the decedent, Ralph Vitale, alleged exposure to asbestos from the installation of Burnham and Weil-McLain residential boilers during the course of his work through his own HVAC and plumbing business between 1966 and 1979. Defendants Burnham, LLC and Weil-McLain, a division of the Marley-Wylain Company, moved for summary judgment on the basis that no cause of action accrued against them pursuant to Maryland’s statute of repose, codified at Sec. 5-108 of the Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings article. Maryland’s statute of repose provides that “no cause of action for damages accrues . . . when wrongful death, personal injury, or injury to real or personal property resulting from the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property occurs more than twenty (20) years after the date the entire improvement first becomes available for its intended use.”
The defendants argued: 1) that Mr. Vitale’s injuries occurred more than twenty years after the alleged exposures to asbestos from the installation of their residential boilers because the last alleged exposure occurred in 1979 and Mr. Vitale was diagnosed with and died from mesothelioma in 2014, 2) that the residential boilers were improvements to real property because they were long-term fixtures to the residential structures, connected to the structures’ gas and electrical systems, and were necessary for the use and enjoyment of the structures, and 3) that no exceptions to the rule applied, and therefore they were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. The court accepted these arguments, rejecting the plaintiff’s suggestion that the rule did not apply because Burnham and Weil-McLain were manufacturers of asbestos containing products or were entities whose principal business was the supply, distribution, installation, sale or resale of products causing asbestos-related disease and were therefore entities that could not seek protection under the rule. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that Mr. Vitale’s injuries occurred at the time of exposure and were therefore within the 20-year period.
This is the first instance in which a residential boiler manufacturer in an asbestos-related personal injury case has obtained summary judgment under Maryland’s statute of repose.