Michael Duggan has a harrowing tale to tell that does not involve ghosts, ghouls, and goblins.
“I was walking on a sidewalk next to a downtown skyscraper. All of a sudden, a fairly large chunk of cement crashed about 20 feet away from me. Some pieces of the cement hit me in the legs and stomach and I had to seek treatment for the injuries. The sad part of it was I had no idea who was legally responsible for the structural issue.”
Michael is not alone in trying to understand the law as it pertains to the legal liability assigned for construction defects.
Overview of the Law
Most construction defect cases are settled by referring to the contracts entered between developers and homeowners, as well as contractors and subcontractors. In Michael’s case, his legal team eventually discovered the legal liability for the fallen cement should be assigned to a subcontractor that had recently repaired damage cement caused by a storm. Suppliers, engineers, and architects can also assume legal liability for construction defects.
Types of Legal Liability
There is not a one size fits all for assigning legal liability in cases of construction defects. Although the goal of requiring the responsible party to address a construction defect is similar among the different types of legal liabilities, the method for proving legal liability differs.
Breach of Contract
The easiest way to assign fault for a construction defect is by referring to the terms agreed to by two legally acceptable parties, such as a homeowner and a roofing contractor. Construction contracts not only address structural damage, the legal documents also clearly define the legal obligations required of both parties from the purchase to the sale of residential and commercial structures. Whenever a breach of contract lawsuit is filed, the court typically invokes the doctrine of substantial performance, which mandates the developer compensate the homeowner for the contract price.
Real estate law requires developers, general contractors, and subcontractors to exercise sufficient care in the construction of residential and commercial structures. When a developer fails to exercise reasonable care, a court might rule the company was negligent in its legal duty to complete a professionally performed construction project. Real estate law places legal liability on developers and general contractors for subcontractor negligence.
In most American jurisdictions, the assignment of implied warranty enforces strict liability on a developer or general contractor. The legal theory behind strict liability derived from product liability statutes. For a strict liability construction defect case, the plaintiff does not have the legal burden of proving developer or general contractor negligence. However, plaintiffs must prove by submitting documentation the defendant participated in the construction of the building in question and played a role in causing the damage that led to the filing of the lawsuit.
Breach of Warranty
The purchase document created by a developer and homeowner should contain warranties that cover different areas of a property. Whenever a developer or general contractor breaches one or more of the warranty stipulations, the legal remedy is to apply the same guidelines that apply to breach of contract construction defect cases. Several courts have issued rulings that make construction companies and the sellers of new real estate liable for failing to honor construction warranties. Some states have passed real estate laws that waive warranties, if both parties agree to the legal arrangement.
If you experience a construction defect that diminishes the value of a home or commercial building, contact a licensed real estate attorney to schedule a free initial consultation. An experienced real estate attorney will make a determination as to who is legally liable for one or more of the construction defects.