Heating Oil Company’s One-Year Limitation on Lawsuits Only Good in Certain Circumstances, Court Says

Heating Oil Company’s One-Year Limitation on Lawsuits Only Good in Certain Circumstances, Court Says

With winter fast approaching, many Maryland homeowners are tuning up their furnaces and, for those who heat with oil, getting heating oil delivered for the cold temperatures ahead. But mishaps can occur. In two recent instances, Maryland homeowners have been forced to deal with issues and inconvenience stemming from mistakes made by Baltimore’s energy companies.

In a recent court case that went all the way to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals said that a clause in a Baltimore City-based heating oil company’s furnace maintenance contract that reduced to one year the time that lawsuits can be brought against the company for violations of the maintenance agreement might not be acceptable.

With certain exceptions, the time period for suing -- the statute of limitations – in Maryland for tort and contract claims is three years.

The court noted that the maintenance contract, however, did not place a limitation upon the time for Carroll to make a claim against a consumer.

Richard and Daphne Ceccone heated their Anne Arundel home with an oil-heated furnace. As is typical of many of Maryland’s homeowners, the Ceccones had a maintenance agreement with Carroll under which the company agreed to provide 24-hour service for no-heat emergencies, to repair specified boiler parts if they become defective and to conduct a yearly tune-up of the heating system.

During April 2014, there was an incident involving the Ceccones’ furnace that caused some damage to their home.

The Ceccones said in court papers that they consulted with an engineer, an insurance adjuster and another furnace maintenance company, all of whom said that Carroll was at fault. The couple asked the heating oil company to pay for the damage; but, after negotiations, the parties did not agree on a resolution.

The homeowners filed their legal complaint before the expiration of three years, but more than a year after their claim accrued. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County dismissed the lawsuit on the basis of the one-year statute of limitations provision in the maintenance agreement.

But, on appeal, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court, holding that contractually-shortened limitations periods, such as the one at issue here, are valid only in certain instances, including if the provision is reasonable in light of all of the circumstances. One of the things the court noted was that Carroll did not place the same one-year limit for suing upon itself.

As a result, the state's top court sent the case back to the trial court with directions to reconsider the case in light of its holding.

What the case means is that if you have a claim against an energy or other type of company and believe that your actions in a tort or contact case are limited because of a statute of limitations of less than three years, then you should talk to a Baltimore city personal injury attorney to find out if the provision really is a limitation on your legal remedies.

In another instance, a Baltimore City couple’s basement was flooded with heating oil after an energy company mistakenly delivered oil to their home. The home had been converted from oil to gas some time ago. The viscous liquid damaged their home and traumatized the couple’s pet potbelly pig just days before the Thanksgiving holiday.

An experienced Baltimore personal injury attorney can help you with your Maryland personal injury claim. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick can help you to determine your legal options. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.244.5068 or via the website for a free consultation.