Policy approaches have shifted nationwide, leading almost every other State to adopt strict liability in blasting and other abnormally dangerous activity cases, and leading Maine to apply strict liability in other contexts. In light of these changes, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine overturns Reynolds v. W.H. Hinman Co., 75 A.2d 802 (1950), and its progeny and adopts a six-factor strict liability test.
A construction contractor engaged in rock-blasting operations in connection with a bridge-replacement project. Certain home owners sued a construction contractor, alleging its rock-blasting operations damaged their home and asserting claims of strict liability and negligence. The court dismissed the strict liability claim based on Maine precedent. It dismissed the negligence claim on grounds that no expert opined that the blasting caused the damage. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur also did not apply because there was no evidence that the alleged damages could not have occurred in the absence of negligence. The home owners appealed the case.
Does strict liability apply to blasting activities as an abnormally dangerous activity?
The high court enacted a new common law rule: defendants conducting an abnormally dangerous activity were strictly liable; negligence did not have to be proved, but causation did. Reynolds v. W.H. Hinman Co., 75 A.2d 802 (1950), and its progeny were overruled to the extent they held otherwise. The owners produced sufficient evidence on the issue of causation to survive the contractor's motion for summary judgment. In addition to their personal observations, the owners offered evidence through their expert that it was possible that the blasting caused damage to the home. Thus, the case was remanded to the trial court to determine if the blasting was an abnormally dangerous activity under the six-factor test adopted by the high court. The court, however, did note that because even careful blasting could cause dangerous vibrations, the owners could not rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.