Court Approves Settlement in LODD Suit Brought by Widow of Maryland Firefighter

The widow of a Maryland firefighter who died at a house fire in 2018, has reached a settlement with the manufacturer of gas piping said to have been the cause of the fire. Nathan E. Flynn, a firefighter with the Howard County Fire Department, died on July 23, 2018.

According to a lawsuit filed by Flynn’s widow Celeste against Omega Flex, Inc.:

  • Shortly after Flynn entered the home, the floor collapsed beneath him, trapping him in the basement level crawl space, where there was an active fire and extreme heat conditions.
  • It was 22 minutes before the intervention team rescued Flynn, and he was taken to the hospital in critical condition. 
  • Tragically, Flynn died shortly after arriving at the hospital, leaving behind a widow, Plaintiff Celeste Flynn, and three minor children.
  • On June 19, 2020, Celeste Flynn filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in her individual capacity, as personal representative of the Estate of Nathan E. Flynn, and on behalf of T.F., C.F., and B.F.
  • The complaint asserts products liability claims sounding in strict liability and negligence, along with claims for wrongful death and survival, against Defendant Omega Flex, Inc. Omega Flex designed, manufactured, and sold the corrugated stainless-steel tubing -sold under the brand name TracPipe-that transported propane gas into the home. 
  • Celeste contends that the house fire began when lightning struck and perforated the TracPipe, causing propane gas to leak and eventually ignite. 
  • She claims that Omega Flex knew that TracPipe was susceptible to lightning-induced failures but continued to sell the product “because it did not want to lose market share.”
  • And despite knowing that TracPipe caused up to 75 lightning-induced fires per year and “could unexpectedly compromise floors in homes,” Omega Flex did not issue any warnings to its customers or to the firefighting community.

Celeste Flynn filed the action in state court in Pennsylvania, which is where Omega Flex is headquartered. However, her reason for suing in Pennsylvania was not to make it convenient for the defendant. Quite simply, Pennsylvania does not recognize the Fireman’s Rule. Since Maryland law does, and the Fireman’s Rule would potentially be fatal to the lawsuit, suing in Maryland would give Omega Flex immediate grounds to seek a dismissal.

Omega Flex removed the case to federal court and sought a dismissal based upon the application of Maryland’s Fireman’s Rule. In September, 2021, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania concluded that indeed Maryland’s Fireman’s Rule would apply in the case. In explaining its ruling the court held as follows (internal citations and quotation marks removed to facilitate reading]:

  • Under Maryland law, firefighters and police officers may not recover for injuries attributable to the negligence that requires their assistance.
  • In other words, Maryland law acts as a near-absolute bar to a suit by a firefighter to recover for injuries caused by the negligently created risk that was the very reason for his presence on the scene in his occupational capacity.
  • Pennsylvania courts, by contrast, have explicitly refused to adopt a fireman’s rule.
  • Because Maryland law may prohibit Plaintiffs’ claims at the outset, and Pennsylvania law would not, there is an actual conflict between the laws of the two states.
  • Maryland’s fireman’s rule is based in part on the notion that when an occupation exists wholly or partially for the purpose of confronting dangers posed to the public, it is inappropriate to allow the worker to recover for injuries resulting from the purpose for which he or she is employed.
  • Stated differently, a firefighter who is injured by a risk inherent in the task of firefighting may be barred from asserting claims for those injuries because it is the firefighter’s duty to deal with fires.
  • Because Flynn was a Maryland firefighter confronting a fire at a Maryland home when he died, Maryland’s public policy rationale is implicated by this case, and Maryland has a recognized interest in limiting the recovery of Flynn’s heirs.
  • Because Pennsylvania law does not recognize the same procedural bar on suits by firefighters, Maryland’s policy interests would be harmed by the application of Pennsylvania law.
  • Pennsylvania likewise has an interest in this action that will be harmed by application of Maryland law.
  • Pennsylvania has a strong public policy interest in holding Pennsylvania manufacturers accountable for injuries that occur as a result of their defective products.
  • Because each state’s interest would be impaired by application of the other state’s laws, we must determine which state has more significant contacts and a greater interest in its law being applied.
  • The parties agree that Flynn was injured in Maryland. We give this factor substantial weight.
  • Flynn worked and resided in Maryland at the time of the accident, and his representatives are Maryland citizens.
  • Although Omega Flex is headquartered in Pennsylvania and it manufactured and marketed TracPipe there, these contacts do not outweigh Maryland’s substantial contacts with the parties and facts in this case.

While ruling that Maryland law would apply to the case, the court refused grant Omega Flex’s motion dismiss finding that even under Maryland’s Fireman’s Rule, Flynn may be able to prevail if she can establish that Omega Flex acted “with willful and wanton disregard to a known, hidden danger.”

The case proceeded simultaneously with discovery and mediation, resulting in a confidential settlement. In a decision handed down last week US District Court Judge Karen S. Marston approved of the settlement. Here is a copy of that decision:

Here is the original complaint and removal filing:

Here is the September 29, 2021 ruling holding that Maryland Law would apply:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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