Condominium Owner Negligence Bars Claim Against Contractor

Where a condominium unit in Baltimore County, Maryland was damaged by steam escaping from the heating system when a unit owner hired a plumber to remove heat radiators in the unit  and was negligent by not requesting the contractor to re-install  the radiators after the unit was painted, the condo insurance carrier may not recover the cost to repair the unit from the plumbing contractor, a federal trial court in Maryland recently ruled.

The radiators were removed in July when the central heating system was not operating, and the unit owner did not request the contractor to re-install the radiators until November after the heating system had been tuned on. The cost of more than $120,000 to repair the damage to the unit was covered by the condominium’s property damage insurance.  The insurance company paid the condominium association which then paid the unit owner who hired a contractor to make the repairs to the unit.

The insurance carrier filed suit against the plumbing contractor to recover the amount it paid to the condominium.  The contractor contended that the claim should not be allowed because the unit owner was an insured under the condo master insurance policy and was negligent in not contacting the contractor to re-install the radiators.

In an unpublished decision in Greater New York Mutual Insurance Company v. Goldsmith, the court concluded that because the 2009 amendments to the insurance provisions of the Maryland Condominium Act expressly required the condominium units to be insured by the condominium association insurance policy, the amended statute should be interpreted to mean that each unit owner is an insured party under the master insurance policy with respect to the owner’s condominium unit.  Since the unit owner is an insured, the court ruled that the insurance carrier suit was brought as subrogee on behalf of the unit owner.

Because the court determined that the unit owner was negligent by not contacting the plumbing contractor to re-install the radiators before the heating system was turned on, Maryland law requires that the owner’s contributory negligence and assumption of the risk barred the insurance carrier’s claim against the contractor.

The court ruling illustrates the importance of unit owners using reasonable care in connection with maintenance and repair of individual condominium units.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives in Maryland -– including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, and Baltimore County; and in Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.

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