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Monday, July 22, 2019

Md. high court affirms statute of repose in wrongful death lawsuit over fall at Chuck E. Cheese

Lawsuits

By Sandra Lane | Jul 6, 2018


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) – A judge in the Maryland Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals that the statute of repose extends to the property owner of the shopping center and the other defendants listed in a wrongful death lawsuit.

On June 25, Judge Sally D. Adkins affirmed the decision of the lower court concerning a lawsuit filed by the family of a workman who died after an accident at a shopping center.

The ruling stated that on Jan. 13, 2012, Sean McLaughlin arrived at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland, to repair the HVAC unit on the restaurant’s roof. He put his ladder on a wall, thinking this was the proper wall to access the roof and climbed to the top, not realizing that there was no roof and it was merely an enclosure for the trash receptacle. Upon reaching the top of the wall, he climbed over and fell to the ground, sustaining injuries that resulted in his death 12 days later.

Moreen Elizabeth Gilroy and McLaughlin’s other survivors filed a wrongful death suit against SVF Riva Annapolis, the owner of the shopping center in which Chuck E. Cheese was located, and Rappaport Management Corp., the shopping center’s property manager. Later CEC Entertainment Inc., owner of Chuck E. Cheese was added to the suit. The relatives alleged that SVF, Rappaport and CEC were liable because they failed to warn McLaughlin that the wall had no roof.

In response, SVF and Rappaport said that the statute of repose barred Gilroy’s claims since the building was constructed far beyond the 20-year limit required by the statute and because the possession and control exception applied only to asbestos cases.

In addition, Rappaport disavowed any liability as property manager because they said they were “not in possession and control of the property, and therefore not subject to liability,” the ruling states.

CEC moved to dismiss on the grounds that McLaughlin was negligent, and that the action was untimely under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act. CEC also expressed SVF’s arguments regarding the statute of repose, the ruling stated.

After a hearing, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County ruled that the statute of repose applied, and granted the motions for summary judgment and motion to dismiss. This court said that the possession and control exception only applies to asbestos-related claims.

Defendants appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which reversed the Circuit Court’s decision, stating that the possession and control exception is not limited to asbestos cases.

“We granted certiorari to answer the following question: Does the possession and control exception to the statute of repose apply in non-asbestos cases? For the reasons set forth below, we hold that it does and shall affirm the decision of the Court of Special Appeals,” the ruling states.

The judge declined to rule on other related issues. 

“On this record, we decline to take up the additional issues of contributory negligence, the wrongful death statute, and Rappaport’s control over the property,” she said. “These issues were not ruled upon by the circuit court or the Court of Special Appeals. Accordingly, petitioners’ arguments on these issues must await another day.”

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