Ryan K. Bautz obtained summary judgment for Washington, D.C. based electrical contractor Central Armature Works, Inc. in a consolidated lawsuit initiated by four insurance companies seeking in excess of $3 million in damages caused by a November 24, 2005, fire at Zachary's Jewelers on Main Street, Annapolis. The consolidated case, captioned, Netherlands Insurance Company v. Constellation Energy Group, Case Number 02-C-07-122993, was pending in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.
Plaintiffs alleged that the fire started inside a junction box that Central Armature Works, Inc. had installed on the side of the Zachary's Jewelers building in 1995 in connection with the City of Annapolis 's renovation of Main Street . As part of that renovation, the overhead utility system that had served Main Street businesses with power for years was abandoned, and a new, more reliable, underground electrical service was constructed to serve Main Street . The new electrical service connection supplying power to Zachary's from underground was made by BG&E inside the junction box installed by Central Armature Works, Inc.
Plaintiffs alleged that a plastic bushing that protected the building service conductors from rubbing against the edge of a metal conduit pipe inside the junction box was not properly installed. Plaintiffs' theorized that the plastic bushing slipped off the metal conduit over time and that street vibrations caused the insulation on the building service conductors to break down leading to an electrical arc that ignited the building.
Records wisely maintained by Central Armature Works, Inc. documented that its employees installed the junction box, and completed their work at Zachary's, on July 7, 1995. The same day, BG&E made the new electrical service connection and power was restored to the property. As the fire occurred more than a decade after the junction box was first available for its intended use, Mr. Rothschild and Mr. Bautz argued that Maryland 's statute of repose shielded Central Armature Works, Inc. from liability.
The statute of repose, which is codified at Section 5-108 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, protects contractors, architects, and engineers from being hauled into court long after their work is completed by setting an absolute time limit after which injuries caused by an allegedly defective improvement to real property will not give rise to a legal cause of action. The ten-year time limit applicable to the work of contractors, architects, and engineers begins to run on “the date the entire improvement first became available for its intended use.” Plaintiffs argued that the “entire improvement” to Zachary's was not available for use, and that the time limit under the statute of repose did not begin to run until the entire Annapolis Main Street reconstruction project was finished. Judge Pamela L. North disagreed, focusing properly on the improvement made to the Zachary's building, and not the entire Main Street reconstruction project. Following oral argument, Judge North issued a memorandum opinion and order granting summary judgment in favor of Central Armature Works, Inc.