In a recent case in the state of Tennessee, the Appellate Court upheld a judgment of the lower court which found that the defendant, a sprinkler company, was not liable for a sprinkler system failure.
The plaintiff filed the action against a contractor, who participated in the construction of its freezer facility, and the sprinkler subcontractor, for damages resulting from the malfunction of the freezer facility's sprinkler system. The trial court found that the sprinkler failure was caused by faulty maintenance by the employees of the plaintiff and not the fault of the automatic sprinkler company.
The malfunction of the system occurred one day after the plaintiff's maintenance employees tested the sprinkler system in the freezer. For no apparent reason, the sprinkler discharged water into the freezer facility, creating a sheet of water two to three inches thick. This failure caused significant damage to the sprinkler system, the facility and to the inventory.
The lower court determined that the failure was caused by improper maintenance, specifically that the dryers that kept moisture out of the dry sprinkler pipes were not properly maintained and that water pump testing was not done properly. The lower court found that the plaintiff's employees were told by the defendant how to do correct maintenance on the water pump and on the desiccant-holding canister, a part of the dryers. The lower court further found that the maintenance supervisor was resistant to maintenance, as he wanted a maintenance-free system and he rejected defendant's offer of a maintenance contract, but failed to enter into a contract with another company.
Some negligence could be imposed on the defendant; however, it would fall short of the percentage of negligence attributable to the plaintiff for failure to maintain and properly test the components at issue.
The court pointed out, in upholding the decision of the lower court, that the defendant provided the plaintiff written material about the importance of maintenance during its installation of the sprinkler system, and this included information from the manufacturer of the system and the fire pump, and additional information about testing, maintenance and operation of the system. The defendant reviewed the maintenance procedures that applied to the sprinkler, summarized the plaintiff's maintenance responsibilities and prepared a laminated document of the summary that hung in the plaintiff's pump room.
The Appellate Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and ruled in favor of the defendant, the sprinkler subcontractor.