Plumber Sued for Wrongful Death After Installing Water Heater: Court Dismisses Case Based on Statute of Repose

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Late last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a judgment dismissing a wrongful death lawsuit against a plumber who installed several new water heaters and associated piping in a residential building in Springfield.

The plumbing work was completed and approved by city officials in October 2012.

In 2016, a resident in the building where the work had been completed suffered a seizure while showering. He was discovered slumped over in the bathtub in several inches of “steaming hot water.” He suffered second and third degree burns on his body and died shortly thereafter.

The decedent’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the plumber in 2019.

The trial court rejected the complaint citing M.G.L., c. 260, section 2B which states,

Action of tort for damages arising out of any deficiency or neglect in the design, planning, construction or general administration of an improvement to real property…shall be commenced only within three years next after the cause of action accrues; provided, however, that in no event shall such actions be commenced more than six years after the earlier of the dates of: (1) the opening of the improvement to use; or (2) substantial completion of the improvement and the taking of possession for occupancy by the owner.

The decedent’s estate appealed the trial court’s decision. The Appeals Court affirmed the decision. According to the Appeals Court’s opinion, the plumbing work was completed and the six-year time limit given in M.G.L., c. 260, section 2B began on the date the city issued its certificate of occupancy approving the work in October 2012. Thus, the estate was required to bring its claims against the plumber by October 2018 the latest.

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