In With a Bang, Out With a Whimper

Koop Crushes Claims in Cattle Casualty Case

Sarah N. Koop, Esquire, who recently joined the Baltimore office of Cipriani & Werner, successfully defended clients in a case of first impression in Maryland. The Court of Appeals held that the noise of fireworks does not constitute an abnormally dangerous activity and therefore strict liability does not apply.

Plaintiff operates a dairy farm in Frederick County, Maryland. The defendants, a church neighboring the plaintiff’s premises, as well as a fireworks manufacturer and their pyro technician, were sued by plaintiff for negligence, private nuisance and strict liability after a fireworks show allegedly caused the cows to stampede, as the noise from the fireworks scarred them. The matter was tried in the District Court and the trial judge entered judgment in favor of the defendants finding that no applicable laws were violated, as the Plaintiff suffered a “wrong without a remedy. “

The plaintiff appealed the defense verdict to the Circuit Court. The Court held that the doctrine of strict liability would apply to the discharge of fireworks, however, the six factors previously set forth by the Court in Yommer v. McKenzie, 255 Md. 220 (1969), did not expand strict liability to the noise emanating from fireworks, which was deemed to be an abnormally dangerous activity. Dissatisfied with the Court’s ruling, Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals. After considering the parties written briefs and oral arguments, the Court held that under the facts of this case, fireworks displays are not abnormally dangerous, nor is the noise emanating from the display. As the activity was not abnormally dangerous, no strict liability could apply, as the defendants complied with all statutory requirements by obtaining the necessary permits prior to having the fireworks display.