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Decided: April 14, 2014

The Fourth Circuit held that the home-buyers were not entitled to recover damages for emotional distress based on SSA Security, Inc.’s (SSA), a security guard company, alleged conduct; that SSA was not liable for the home-buyers’ emotional injuries based on its employees’ alleged conduct; and that the certification of a question on the scope of the Maryland Security Guards Act was warranted.

African American plaintiffs (“Plaintiffs”) brought suit against SSA under various negligence-based claims, and a claim premised on a provision of the Maryland Security Guards Act claiming damages for emotional distress resulting from an arson conspiracy.  Two SSA employees carried out a conspiracy to set ablaze homes that Plaintiffs contracted to purchase, but had not yet purchased at the time of the arson.

The Fourth Circuit determined that under Maryland law, a plaintiff ordinarily cannot recover for emotional injury caused by witnessing, or learning, of negligently inflicted injury to the plaintiffs’ property.  However, plaintiffs would be able to recover damages for emotional injury if they could show that (1) their personal safety was in jeopardy, or (2) if SSA’s hiring of the employees was inspired by fraud, malice, or like motives.  Plaintiffs were unable to show that SSA had prior notice of their emotional injuries and, thus, the Court held that Plaintiffs could not recover for these injuries.  Also, the Court determined that plaintiffs’ emotional injuries were not a foreseeable result of SSA’s hiring of the security guards.  Thus, SSA was not liable for damages.

Full Opinion

Chris Hampton