Exploding house lawsuit to be argued before Michigan Supreme Court

Parties dispute whether installers created a new hazard, or made an existing one worse, by installing a dryer in front of an uncapped gas line that owner later unknowingly turned on. An open flame, an uncapped gas line, and the resulting explosion of a Macomb County home ignited a legal dispute that the Michigan Supreme Court will hear in oral arguments on May 9 in Marshall, as part of the "Court Community Connections" educational program. In Hill v Sears Roebuck & Company, the plaintiffs' home exploded after the owner unknowingly turned on the gas to an uncapped laundry area gas line and her daughter used a cigarette lighter. The gas line, which was left turned off and uncapped by the former owners, was behind an electric dryer that the owner had had installed shortly after she bought the house, about three and a half years before the explosion. The owner, and her children who were living with her, sued the store where the owner bought the dryer, as well as the companies that delivered the dryer and the contractors who installed it. Among other matters, the plaintiffs contend that the installers made an existing danger worse by locating the electric dryer in front of the gas line, and that the installers should have warned the owner about the gas line, refused to install the dryer, or capped it. The installers argue in part that they owe the plaintiffs no duty apart from installing the dryer as they contracted to do, and that they had nothing to do with the explosion. Although the defendants sought to have the case against them dismissed, both the trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs' case could go forward. The Court of Appeals determined in part that the installers did owe the plaintiffs a duty because, the appellate court said, the installers created a "new hazard" that they should have anticipated "would cause serious damages." While the Court normally hears oral argument at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, the "Court Community Connections" program takes the Court to various locations throughout Michigan to hold oral argument. The program is aimed principally at high school students. The Supreme Court started "Court Community Connections" in 2007 to foster a greater understanding of appellate courts and their impact on peoples' lives, explained Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. "In contrast to the trial courts, the appellate process gets little attention; the appellate courts are pretty low on drama," Young said. "And yet, appellate rulings set legal precedents that can have profound and far-reaching effects. Through this program, students not only learn about the appellate process; they get to see it in action." Calhoun County Circuit Chief Judge James C. Kingsley, who invited the Supreme Court to Marshall, said the Court's visit has generated "a lot of enthusiasm. The legal community, the schools, the students - we're all looking forward to this program, and we've had great cooperation from everyone involved." The Calhoun County Bar Association is working with local students who are studying the case," the chief judge said. Students from 17 Calhoun County high schools will watch as attorneys in Hill v Sears argue their cases to the Supreme Court's seven justices. Afterwards, the students will meet with the Hill v Sears attorneys for a debriefing. Court will be held in the Calhoun County Commissioners' Chambers, located at 315 Green Street, Marshall. The oral argument will begin at 12:40 p.m. Media are welcome; please note the Court's policy on film and electronic coverage and contact the Office of Public Information for permission to film or photograph during the hearing. Published: Mon, Apr 23, 2012