What Must A Chimney Sweep Do? – The Delaware Superior Court Requires Full Compliance with NFPA 211


ChimneyCozen O’Connor attorneys successfully argued in the Delaware Superior Court that the adoption of a National Fire Protection Association standard by an administrative agency defined the standard of care for work performed by a chimney sweep. The Court accepted the argument advanced on behalf of a subrogating insurance carrier for a condominium association that a chimney sweep hired by the association to “clean and inspect” chimney flues was required to perform a full Level 1 inspection of the entire chimney and fireplace systems pursuant to NFPA 211

In Fireman’s Insurance Company v. Fire-Free Chimney Sweeps, Inc.,[1] the Court denied a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by a chimney sweep company. It claimed that its contract with a condominium association to “clean and inspect” chimneys and flues for the individual fireplaces in the condominium complex did not create any duty on the part of the chimney sweep to inspect the fireplaces connected to the chimneys. The Court found that NFPA 211, the standard relied upon by the plaintiff, required the chimney sweep to perform a full “Level 1” inspection which involves an evaluation of the chimney, flue and all appliances, including the fireplaces, that were attached to the chimney. 

Chimney Sweep SignThe chimney sweep was hired by the association to clean and inspect the chimneys that were utilized by the 294 unit owners in the condominium complex. NFPA 211 mandates cleaning of chimneys and flues, including the evaluation of the appliance which is attached to the chimney, in order to insure that the entire system is safe and operational. One of the unit owners had replaced the original fireplace doors with an after-market set of doors which effectively blocked the flow of air around the prefabricated fireplace. This prevented the fireplace from properly cooling while it was in operation and resulted in the ignition of combustible wood members surrounding the fireplace. The after-market doors had been installed by this unit owner prior to the time that the chimney sweep company performed its cleaning and inspection. 

Plaintiff argued that had a full and complete Level 1 inspection been performed, the chimney sweep would have detected the fire hazard created by the after-market doors and should have provided warnings to the unit owner and condominium complex that the doors should be replaced in order to prevent fires.  The chimney sweep argued that its duty was limited to properly cleaning  and inspecting the flues. It asserted that since it had no access to the individual units it could not be responsible for the condition of the fireplaces in those units that it did not access. It did offer to inspect individual unit owner’s fireplaces for an additional charge of $40. Only a few of the unit owners availed themselves of this offer. 

The Court concluded that once a chimney sweep undertakes an inspection encompassed within the NFPA 211 standard, it has an absolute obligation to perform a full Level 1 inspection consistent with the standard and anything less would constitute negligence and negligence per se.  The court stressed code compliance as NFPA 211 is a standard intended to protect life and property from the risk of fires and explosions.  The Court essentially required a contractor like a chimney sweep to turn down a contract if it cannot carry out the steps in an adopted safety code, even if full compliance means mandating access to the private property of third parties.

[1] This opinion is yet unpublished. It is identified as Delaware Civil Action No. 07C-06-287-JOH


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