Dyer v. Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc.

984 A.2d 210 (2009)

Quick Summary

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Vera Dyer and her sons (plaintiffs) home was damaged by nearby blasting, which was conducted by Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc. (defendant). They filed a lawsuit alleging strict liability and negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for Maine Drilling, but on appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine vacated this judgment.

The issue was whether Maine Drilling should be strictly liable for the damages. The court concluded that strict liability should apply to abnormally dangerous activities like blasting and found evidence of potential causation of damage by Maine Drilling’s activities.

Facts of the Case

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Vera Dyer and her two sons, Paul and Robert Dyer (plaintiffs), owned a home that sustained damage when Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc. (defendant) conducted rock blasting for a bridge construction project.

The Dyers’ home, a family property since the 1950s with a cement foundation and floor, along with a garage built in the 1980s, were affected by the blasting operations. Maine Drilling had distributed notices about the upcoming blasting activities and completed a pre-blast survey, noting some existing conditions of the home.

Over 100 blasts took place, with the closest being about 100 feet from the Dyer home. The Dyers observed significant changes post-blasting: the basement floor dropped, the first floor became unlevel due to a sagging center beam, new cracks appeared, and a retaining wall moved.

An expert engaged by the Dyers suggested that blasting could have caused the damages, especially since the home might be built on uncontrolled fill which is susceptible to settling from blasting vibrations.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The Dyers filed a lawsuit against Maine Drilling alleging strict liability and negligence for the damages to their property.
  2. Maine Drilling moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court.
  3. The Dyers appealed the decision to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

I.R.A.C. Format

Issue

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Whether Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc. should be strictly liable for damages caused to the Dyers’ property due to their blasting activities.

Rule of Law

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The court adopted the Second Restatement’s imposition of strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities, which holds parties liable for harm resulting from such activities even if they exercised utmost care to prevent harm.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The court decided to adopt strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities, moving away from a negligence-based approach used in previous decisions.

This change was influenced by the recognition that blasting is inherently dangerous and can cause damage even when conducted with care.

The court found that the costs associated with such activities should be borne by those who benefit from them rather than innocent neighbors.

Furthermore, the court determined that there were factual disputes regarding causation that precluded summary judgment. The evidence presented by the Dyers created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the blasting was the proximate cause of damage to their home.

Conclusion

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The summary judgment in favor of Maine Drilling was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the adoption of strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities.

Dissenting Opinions

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Justices Alexander and Saufley dissented in part, arguing that existing Maine law already provides a basis for recovery if negligence and causation can be proven, thus there is no need to adopt a strict liability rule for blasting cases.

Key Takeaways

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  1. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine adopted strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities such as blasting.
  2. The decision moved away from requiring proof of negligence in such cases, holding parties liable regardless of precautions taken.
  3. The case was remanded due to factual disputes regarding causation, highlighting that even careful blasting may cause damage warranting liability.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What determines an activity to be abnormally dangerous warranting strict liability?

An activity is deemed abnormally dangerous if it inherently carries a risk of serious harm that cannot be completely guarded against by the exercise of reasonable care and is not commonly carried out by the average person in that area.

  • For example: Storing large quantities of explosives in a residential area would be considered abnormally dangerous due to the potential for catastrophic damage, irrespective of the precautions taken.

How does strict liability differ from negligence in terms of legal responsibility?

Strict liability imposes responsibility without fault for damages caused by certain activities, whereas negligence requires proving a breach of duty that caused harm. With strict liability, there’s no need to show that the party at fault breached a duty of care.

  • For example: A dog owner may be strictly liable for bites from a breed known to be aggressive, regardless of precautionary measures, as opposed to needing to prove carelessness in securing the dog.

Why might a court prefer to adopt strict liability for certain activities over a negligence standard?

Adoption of strict liability for certain hazardous activities ensures that those who engage in and benefit from such activities bear the costs of any resultant harm, promoting fairness and providing stronger incentives for safety.

  • For example: A company operating a nuclear power plant will be held strictly liable for any radioactive contamination, encouraging the highest safety standards due to the high stakes involved.

References

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