If you’re an architect, civil engineer or another design professional in California, there are laws to protect you if you inadvertently allow a construction defect to occur. Before you can be sued, the homeowner owes you a chance to identify and repair any defect they allege.
Sometimes, defects are obvious. Other times, there is a genuine issue of opinion about whether a defect occurred. Builders are required to follow the specifications agreed upon in the contract and perform the work within acceptable standards.
You, as the design professional, are responsible for ensuring that the design and specifications meet all codes and legal standards. When you make a mistake, it can sometimes impact the value or even viability of the project.
Statute of limitations in California
Design defects can cause injury or economic harm. When there is an injury, California requires that the injured person file suit within two years. If a mistake affected the value of the project, the statute of limitations is three years. After ten years, a statute of repose goes into effect, preventing any further lawsuits.
However, you should be aware that the statute of limitations can be paused or “tolled” in certain circumstances, such as when the defect could not reasonably be discovered before the limitation period.
The right to repair
We all understand that litigation is expensive. There are certainly situations where a defect is minimal or technical, and design professionals have the right to defend themselves in those situations. Where a defect seems apparent, however, you may be better off just fixing the problem and moving on. Luckily, California law guarantees you a right to do that before a homeowner can sue you.
Before they can sue, the homeowner must notify you of the alleged defect in writing and give you a chance to examine and redress the defect.
That said, they do not have to give you this opportunity to repair before attempting to resolve the situation outside of the courts, such as seeking to make a warranty claim.
If you have been sued for a construction defect without first being given the opportunity to repair the alleged defect, you may have a strong defense. Discuss your situation with an attorney who defends design professionals in construction defect cases.