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Liability for Injury or Damage from Steam

Although a steam boiler is inherently dangerous, steam is not regarded as a dangerous instrumentality.  A person who generates or uses it is bound at his peril to prevent injury to others.  Therefore, there is no liability for injuries arising out of the production or use of steam in the absence of negligence with respect to the condition or operation of the boiler, engine, or other instrumentality.

N.Y. Lab. Law § 204 exists to further the legitimate state goal of maintaining the safety of boilers.  The statute draws a distinction allowing for the inspection of boilers by insurance companies recognizing the rational belief that these entities have an interest in performing accurate and safe inspections.  The state legislature has made the rational connection between an insurer’s interest in boiler safety (to minimize the possibility of boiler malfunctions, injury and claims) and conducting a proper inspection[i].

A boiler inspector shall be liable in a wrongful death action if s/he fails to make an adequate inspection of a boiler.  The boiler inspector is required to conduct a state-required inspection of a regulated piece of machinery in order for the boiler owner to operate it.  For example, inspection of boilers within the State of New York is subject to the detailed statutory scheme set forth in N.Y. Lab. Law § 204.

The steam and steam heads inside the steam room are open and obvious, and hence there is no liability for failing to warn plaintiff specifically of the risks posed by a loss of consciousness in the steam room and consequent prolonged exposure to unguarded steam emissions.  Such risks are so obvious as to obviate the need for a formal warning[ii].

A company furnishing steam to a building for heating purposes is liable to an occupant for damage resulting from steam escaping from a broken pipe where, after receiving notice of the condition of the pipe, it neglects to shut off the steam.  This is true though the pipes may be owned by the owner of the building.  The reasonableness of the company’s procedure for cutting off the supply of steam after being notified of a break in the lines, and the inexcusable delay on the part of its employees if any, are to be determined as questions of fact.

[i] Cityspec, Inc. v. Smith, 617 F. Supp. 2d 161 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).

[ii] Caruso v. John St. Fitness Club, LLC, 2006 NY Slip Op 8180, 1 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2006).

Inside Liability for Injury or Damage from Steam