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 the risk.
    • 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 anything.
    • In this case, for some reason Crews did not bring up the rescue doctrine.
  • 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.