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Robinson v. Samuel C. Boyd & Son

May 08, 2003


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-3166-97) (Hon. Evelyn Queen, Motions Judge) (Hon. Jose M. Lopez, Trial Judge) (Hon. Steffen W. Graae, Trial Judge)

Before Farrell, Ruiz and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Argued January 9, 2001

Dorothy Robinson alleged in her complaint that appellees negligently damaged her home, causing damage to her property as well as personal injury. The trial judge granted partial summary judgment for appellees, and a jury returned a verdict for the appellees on the remaining claim. Robinson appeals from the trial court's denial of her motion to extend time to designate a medical expert, and exclusion of her expert witnesses and her testimony regarding loss of personal property. She also argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for summary judgment, granting appellees' motions for summary judgment, and, after verdict, denying her motion for judgment or for a new trial. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.



This case arises out of a fire and resulting repairs at the house in which appellant resided at 420 Farragut Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C. The house was originally owned by Novella Carter, appellant's mother, who died in April of 1989. It is undisputed that appellant and her sisters are heirs to their mother's estate and that appellant occupied the house until it was damaged by fire. Appellant claims that she held a life estate in the property, and provides as evidence the deposition of Myrna Fawcett, the successor personal representative of the estate of Novella Carter, who stated that appellant and her sisters had an informal agreement granting appellant a life estate in the house.

On April 27, 1994, appellee Samuel C. Boyd & Son ("Boyd") performed roofing work on the house. There was a fire the same day, which caused extensive damage to the roof and interior of the home. An investigation later revealed that the fire originated on the roof of appellant's home, and had been caused by heat from a workman's torch. Appellant alleged that Boyd's repairman was negligent in the use of his torch and caused the fire on the roof.

After the fire, appellee PMA Group ("PMA"), the insurer of appellee Boyd, agreed to pay for the damages caused by the fire and visited appellant's home to adjust the damages caused by the fire. Myrna Fawcett, on behalf of the estate, executed a document with PMA on November 18, 1994, which released Boyd from any and all claims arising from the fire. Myrna Fawcett then contracted with appellee P.N. Hoffman Builders, Inc. ("Hoffman"), to repair the home using the proceeds from the settlement with PMA.

Appellant filed a complaint on April 28, 1997, alleging that Boyd, Hoffman, and PMA committed separate acts of negligence which caused her to suffer "personal injury and property loss and damages, inconvenience, pain of the body and mind, loss of use, in excess of $50,000." As to Boyd, the complaint alleged that during the course of their roof repair, a fire was negligently set to the roof, causing the plaintiff to suffer personal injury and property damage. As to PMA (Boyd's insurer), the complaint alleged that in undertaking the repairs from the fire, PMA failed to supervise its contractors, servants, and agents, who left the property in a state of disrepair, causing appellant's damages to be aggravated. Although the complaint listed Hoffman as a defendant, it did not allege any specific claim as to Hoffman.

Motion to Extend Time to Complete Discovery to Name a Medical Expert

Pursuant to the initial scheduling order, plaintiff was required to designate her experts and their expected testimony in compliance with Superior Court Civil Rule 26 (b)(4) *fn1 by October 15, 1997. On that date she filed a preliminary Rule 26 (b)(4) statement, *fn2 a preliminary witness list, and a motion to extend time to complete discovery to submit a 26 (b)(4) statement. In her motion to extend time to complete discovery, appellant asked for a thirty-day extension and indicated that she would need her complete medical records before she could designate a medical expert. The appellees opposed the request, claiming that appellant's medical records have always been available to her and could have been obtained pursuant to a properly executed authorization. Appellant's motion was twice denied by the trial court. *fn3 According to appellant, subsequent to the denial of her motion to extend time to complete discovery, she obtained her medical records and retained an expert who would have testified that appellant suffered physical injury, mental distress, and emotional injury as a result of the fire.

Motions for Summary Judgment

After the close of discovery, Hoffman filed a motion for summary judgment contending that appellant had no standing to bring suit against Hoffman because its contract was entered into by the personal representative for the Estate of Novella Carter, not by appellant. Boyd and PMA also filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) appellant had no standing to pursue a claim for property damage because she did not own the property, which was owned by the estate; (2) even if she had standing, the claims against Boyd were barred pursuant to the release executed by Myrna Fawcett on behalf of the estate; and (3) even if appellant had a claim against Boyd, there was no basis for a claim against PMA based on Boyd's alleged negligence because there was no agency relationship between PMA and Boyd.

Appellant filed a cross motion for summary judgment against Boyd asserting that there was no dispute that Boyd acted negligently in repairing her roof, causing her personal and property damage. In her opposition to the motions of Boyd, PMA, and Hoffman for summary judgment, appellant argued she had standing as a joint owner of the property and life tenant; that PMA was negligent in failing to ...

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