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Toms v. Calvary Assembly of God, Inc.

Citation. 446 Md. 543, 132 A.3d 866 (2016)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff’s cows were scared by firework displayed by defendant. As a result, the scared cows damaged plaintiff’s property and four cows died. Plaintiff sued defendant for conducting abnormally dangerous activity and should thus be strictly liable for plaintiff’s injury.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Lawful fireworks displays were not an abnormally dangerous activity.


Plaintiff was a dairy farmer and operated a dairy farm in Frederick County, Maryland, and maintains a herd of approximately 90 head of cattle. On September 9, 2012, defendant displayed firework at a place adjacent to plaintiff’s farm. Defendant obtained the permit for displaying the firework and the event was monitored by a deputy fire marshal. Plaintiff claimed the firework was too loud and scared the cows. As a result, the cows destroyed plaintiff’s properties and four cows died.


Whether noise emanating from the discharge of a fireworks display constitutes an abnormally dangerous activity, which would warrant the imposition of strict liability?


No. The Court held that lawful fireworks displays that fulfill statutory requirements are not an abnormally dangerous activity. Therefore, defendant is not strictly liable.


Maryland has long recognized the doctrine of strict liability, which does not require a finding of fault in order to impose liability on a party. The underlying question in this case is whether firework is an abnormally dangerous activity.

Maryland defines fireworks as “combustible, implosive or explosive compositions, substances, combinations of substances, or articles that are prepared to produce a visible or audible effect by combustion, explosion, implosion, deflagration, or detonation.

Next, the Court applies the factor test listed in Restatement:

(a) existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person, land or chattels of others;

(b) likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great;

(c) inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care;

(d) extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage;

(e) inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on;

(f) extent to which its value to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes.

By evaluating all factors, the Court found defendant discharged fireworks in accordance with the requirements of the Public Safety Article. The Court concluded that lawful firework displays are not automatically abnormally dangerous activities since statutes regulate the use of fireworks significantly and provide useful ways to reduce associative harms.

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