In 2009, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, held in Dyer v. Maine Drilling and Blasting, Inc. that strict liability should be applied to abnormally dangerous activities in accordance with the Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 519-20. In doing so, the court expressly overruled its decision in Reynolds v. W.H. Hinman Co., which had rejected a strict liability approach to blasting cases in favor of a negligence-based standard. In Dyer, a majority of the Law Court vacated the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for Maine Drilling and Blasting, Inc. (Maine Drilling) and held that strict liability should be applied in cases that involve abnormally dangerous activities. The majority explained that policy approaches regarding strict liability had shifted in the more than fifty years since the court’s decision in Reynolds and that almost every other state now applied strict liability in abnormally dangerous activity cases. Furthermore, the majority maintained that because the legal basis upon which Reynolds was decided had “fallen into jurisprudential disrepute . . . [the court] must allow that rule to change.” The dissents, however, contended that there was no need to adopt a strict liability standard because it was very likely the Dyers could recover damages by showing causation under Reynolds’s negligence standard and, therefore, principles of stare decisis weighed against needlessly overturning viable precedent. Although “blasting [is regarded] as a paradigm of the abnormally dangerous activities category” under the theory of strict liability, the dissents were correct that there was no need to overturn Reynolds because it was very likely that the Dyers could have recovered under the negligence standard established by that decision. Moreover, as many courts and commentators have argued, strict liability should only be applied in an abnormally dangerous activities case when the plaintiff has demonstrated that proving negligence would be impossible. Part II of this Note will examine the Law Court’s prior opinions in blasting cases and Part III will analyze the Dyer decision. Part IV will then demonstrate that the dissents properly brought into question the rationales the majority utilized as justifications for imposing strict liability. Part IV will also examine how section 520 should be applied in future cases and will argue that whether strict liability should be imposed on a given activity is a decision best left to the discretion of the Legislature. This Note will conclude by maintaining that the scope of common law strict liability in Maine should remain limited.
Matthew M. Cobb,
"The Wrong Approach at the Wrong Time?": Maine Adopts Strict Liability for Abnormally Dangerous Activities in Dyer v. Maine Drilling and Blasting, Inc.,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol63/iss1/10