Firm obtains defense verdict in Connecticut Superior Court

PROVIDENCE (March 16, 2011) – Steve Adams and Tim Groves recently obtained a defense verdict in Connecticut Superior Court on behalf of a home heating oil company in a subrogation case alleging that it had caused extensive property damage to a private residence as a result of frozen water pipes.

The property insurer paid insurance benefits to the homeowner, and then in a subrogation lawsuit for $250,000 asserted negligence and breach of contract against the home heating oil company.

The homeowner received oil deliveries at regular intervals consistent with an “automatic delivery” contract. During the relevant time period, the homeowner was not living in the home, had left it vacant, and did not tell the home heating oil company about his absence. The property insurer alleged that because the firm’s client, the oil delivery company, had made a large delivery of heating oil to the home in December 2007, followed by a relatively small delivery in January 2008, the oil delivery company knew or should have known that the home’s heating system had ceased to function sometime during that time period.

The property insurer argued that the oil delivery company had an affirmative obligation to contact the homeowner to ascertain whether there was a problem, and that the delivery company’s failure to do so caused the property damage resulting from the frozen pipes.

At trial, Adams and Groves pointed out that the oil delivery company’s service contract with the homeowner excluded coverage of vacant properties. Witnesses for the defense testified that the oil delivery company relied on its customers to provide notice when they had no heat. They also testified that there were a number of reasons why a large delivery one month followed by a small delivery the next month would not support the conclusion that the heating system wasn’t working.

Adams and Groves argued that under Connecticut law the standard of care in the residential heating oil delivery industry does not require a delivery company to affirmatively contact a customer following irregular deliveries.

Following a three-day trial, Judge Robert Satter ruled in favor of the oil delivery company, finding that it had no duty under the circumstances to contact the homeowner based on the delivery history.

“This is the correct ruling,” said Adams. “Our client did everything it was supposed to do under the delivery contract. The homeowner had left the home vacant for a long period of time. The property insurer was essentially arguing that home heating oil companies are required to keep track of their customers’ comings and goings to save customers from their own negligence. Our client makes thousands of deliveries. Homeowners have the responsibility of making sure their furnace is operating appropriately and to place a call when there is a problem.”

About Barton Gilman

Barton Gilman is one of New England’s leading civil litigation law firms with offices in Boston and Providence. Its experienced trial attorneys appear regularly in the federal and state courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Providence Business News has named the firm as one of Rhode Island’s Best Places to Work for three consecutive years (2008-2010).