Crews v. Hollenbach
358 Md. 627, 751 A.2d 481 (2000)
Hollenbach was working for a company doing some
excavation. Even though the gas lines had been clearly marked, he hit
one, resulting in a natural gas leak.
Hollenbach didn't report the gas leak for several hours.
Crews, who worked for the gas company, was part of a team
assigned to fix the leak. There was an explosion and Crews was injured.
He sued Hollenbach for negligence.
No one knew what specifically caused the explosion.
The Trial Court granted summary judgment to Hollenbach and
dismissed the case. Crews appealed.
The Trial Court found that Crews and his team had assumed
Hollenbach argued that a plaintiff who voluntarily
consents, either expressly or implicitly, to exposure to a known risk
cannot later sue for damages incurred from exposure to that risk.
Crews had signed no waivers or otherwise expressly
consented to the risk. However, the Trial Court found that there was an implicit
assumption of risk involved with his job.
The Appellate Court affirmed. Crews appealed.
The Maryland Supreme Court affirmed.
The Maryland Supreme Court looked at three factors to
determine if the risk had been assumed:
Did Crews have knowledge of the risk?
Did Crews appreciate the risk?
Did Crews voluntarily expose himself to the risk?
The Court found that, in cases where
there is no express assumption of risk, there can be implicit
assumption of risk in cases where a reasonable person would clearly
have comprehended the danger.
Most of the time, courts have held that implicit
assumption of the risk is a subjective standard, meaning that it's
about whether Crews comprehended the danger, not the more objective
standard of a "reasonable person." But here, the courts went
the other way.
Crews unsuccessfully argued that since there was an
emergency, his team was compelled to work in the dangerous area to save
the neighborhood. Therefore he did not voluntarily assume the risk.
However, the Court found that Crews volunteered for this duty by
taking a job for the gas company repairing gas leaks.
How does assumption of risk, connect to the rescue
doctrine? Under the rescue doctrine, the defendant's duty
extends to rescuers. So if somebody sees a burning building, runs inside
to rescue people and gets hurt, the defendant is liable. But, if you
allow assumption of the risk as a defense, you could always say
that a person running into a burning building has realized the danger and
therefore voluntarily assumed the risk!
Courts have usually said that someone involved in a
rescue does so involuntarily. You don't have a choice whether to let
someone burn to death, so you have not voluntarily assumed
In this case, for some reason Crews did not bring up the rescue
Maryland was a contributory negligence
jurisdiction. This means that if Crews was even partially responsible,
there would be no recovery.
In a comparative negligence jurisdiction, Crews
could have gotten some recovery, even if he was partially responsible.