Law School Case Brief
Crews v. Hollenbach - 358 Md. 627, 751 A.2d 481 (2000)
The defense of assumption of the risk is grounded on the theory that a plaintiff who voluntarily consents, either expressly or impliedly, to exposure to a known risk cannot later sue for damages incurred from exposure to that risk. The defense of assumption of the risk rests upon an intentional and voluntary exposure to a known danger and, therefore, consent on the part of the plaintiff to relieve the defendant of an obligation of conduct toward him and to take his chances from harm from a particular risk.
On March 23, 1996, defendant John Hollenbach, Sr. was working as a subcontractor on a cable-installation site. While digging a ditch, Hollenbach's excavator struck a buried natural gas line owned by defendant Washington Gas Light Company (Washington Gas), causing the gas line to leak. Washington Gas dispatched a repair team to the scene of the leak. Plaintiff Lee James Crews was the foreman in charge of the team. While Crews and his team were engaged in closing off the leak, the gas ignited and an explosion occurred. Crews was injured severely. Crews filed a negligence and strict liability lawsuit in Maryland state court against Washington Gas and numerous others seeking to recover damages for his injuries. Crews' wife, plaintiff Theresa Crews, joined the action and asserted a loss of consortium claim. Several defendants, including Hollenbach, filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted on the ground that the Crews were barred from recovery by the principles of the doctrine of assumption of the risk. The Crews appealed.
Was there a voluntary assumption of risk due to the nature of Mr. Crews' job?
The court affirmed the summary judgment, although it declined to recognize or apply the so-called doctrine of "primary" assumption of the risk applied by the appellate court. Using a common law assumption of risk analysis, the court found that Mr. Crews plainly knew of the risks inherent in working on the gas leak and his subjective denials of understanding the dangers were unavailing because undisputed facts disclosed that the risk of an explosion was plainly evident to him. There was no evidence that Mr. Crews was compelled to repair the leak or risk his job. Thus, the aspect of his job duties that involved fixing gas leaks, a clearly dangerous endeavor which he had confronted for over 20 years, constituted a voluntary assumption of those risks reasonably expected to exist.
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