February 13, 2015

Court Denies Motion to Dismiss In New “Independent Duty” Dispute

By John Parnass

Providence Hospital sued a fire suppression / sprinkler company (Simplex) after a sprinkler head failed and caused a lot of water damage to the facility.  Its theories were two-fold:  (1) common law negliegnce and (2) product defect.  Notably, it did not sue Simplex on the contract between the parties and apparently did not even mention it in its Complaint. 

In response, Simplex filed a Motion to Dismiss.  It argued that the Contract between the parties trumped any right to sue in tort or otherwise – in other words, that there was no “independent duty” outside the four corners of the written agreement.  (We have posted before on this evolving subject).   The contract at issue was a service contract for $16,000 to inspect the system.  That contract has a limitation of liability clause equal to the $16,000.  It also required suit to be brought within a year of damage, among other things.

Simplex argued there is no “independent” tort duty owed by a sprinkler inspection company, that the Contract barred the action on numerous grounds, and that the case should therefore be dismissed.

Judge Coughenour recently denied the Motion to Dismiss (Trust v. Simplex).  At the same time, the Court seemed to invite either side to file a Summary Judgment Motion later after some discovery had occurred.  We will monitor the case and provide updates as warranted.