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Construction Defects: Common Lawsuits and Defenses

As a construction professional, you take pride in building structures that are safe and reliable. However, you cannot control every tiny detail involved in the construction process – mistakes will inevitably occur. Unfortunately, minor mistakes can quickly become serious construction defects if they are not caught in time. 

Furthermore, clients are prone to seeing issues caused by their own lack of maintenance as the result of poor craftsmanship. They may even attempt to hold you liable for issues you didn’t cause. 

That’s why construction defect litigation is a significant concern for builders, developers, and contractors in California. Understanding the common types of allegations and the available defenses is crucial for construction companies to navigate this complex legal landscape. Let’s break down the most frequent construction defect allegations in California and discuss the defenses that companies can employ.

What Is a Construction Defect?

A construction defect is a condition in a building or structure that reduces its value, safety, or utility due to a flaw in the design, craft, materials, or systems used in the building process. These defects can be visible or hidden and might surface immediately or years later. They can arise from various factors, including poor design or planning, substandard quality, the use of defective or inferior materials, or non-compliance with building codes and standards.

Types of Construction Defects

There are a variety of types of defects that can arise during the building process, including:

  • Design Deficiencies: These defects stem from architectural or engineering design errors. For instance, a roof designed with insufficient load-bearing capacity may lead to water accumulation and leakage.
  • Material Deficiencies: Using substandard or defective materials can lead to significant problems. An example is the use of poor-quality waterproofing materials. This includes problems with roofs, windows, and doors, where failures can lead to leaks, water damage, and energy inefficiencies.
  • Workmanship Deficiencies: Poor quality of work by contractors and subcontractors can result in defects. Improper installation of components like windows, roofing, or plumbing systems are common examples.
  • Subsurface/Geotechnical Problems: Inadequate site selection and preparation, especially in areas with problematic soil conditions, can lead to issues like foundation cracks and structural instability. In California, especially in areas prone to seismic activity, improper soil analysis and preparation can lead to settlement issues, resulting in structural damage.
  • Operational and Maintenance Issues: Sometimes, defects arise not directly from the construction process but from improper maintenance or operation of a building’s systems, like HVAC or electrical systems. Defects in electrical and mechanical systems can pose significant safety risks and functionality issues.

In the legal context, these defects can lead to liability claims and litigation, often involving multiple parties, including builders, developers, contractors, architects, and suppliers. The identification of a defect may trigger warranties or invoke insurance policies, and resolving these claims can involve detailed investigations to determine the cause and extent of the defect, as well as who is legally responsible.

The party found liable for construction defects is typically responsible for repairing the defect, which can be costly and disruptive. Property owners, builders, and developers need to address these issues promptly to prevent further damage and to minimize legal and financial liabilities. Regular inspections and adherence to building codes and industry standards are crucial preventative measures.

Defenses Against Construction Defect Allegations

If you or your company has been hit with allegations of negligence or construction defects, it’s crucial to understand how to defend yourself. The most common and well-established defenses against these accusations include:

  • Statute of Limitations: California law sets specific time limits for initiating construction defect claims. Companies can argue that the claim is barred if it’s filed after the statute of limitations has expired.
  • Quality and Code Compliance: Demonstrating adherence to building codes, standards, and the use of appropriate materials can be a strong defense against allegations of poor workmanship or substandard quality.
  • Contributory Negligence: If the defect is partly due to the actions or negligence of the property owner, such as lack of maintenance or modifications, this can be a valid defense.
  • Third-Party Contributions: Often, defects are the result of work performed by subcontractors or due to defective materials supplied by manufacturers. Shifting the liability to the responsible party can be a defense.
  • Indemnification Clauses: Construction contracts often include indemnification clauses that may require other parties involved in the building process to compensate the defendant if they are found liable.
  • Lack of Causation: A defendant can argue that the defect was not caused by their work but resulted from other factors, such as normal wear and tear, environmental conditions, or subsequent alterations made by the property owner.

In addition, California law requires certain pre-litigation procedures in construction defect cases, such as allowing the contractor the opportunity to repair the defects. Compliance with these procedures can be a key defense. 

Responding to Claims of Construction Defects

If you’re facing allegations of poor craftsmanship or other issues leading to defects in a structure you built, you should also understand the process of responding to these claims. As a firm, it’s essential to:

  • Understand Contractual Rights and Obligations: Thoroughly understanding and drafting clear construction contracts can prevent future disputes.
  • Maintain Comprehensive Records: Keeping detailed records of all aspects of the building process, from design to completion, is vital for defending against defect allegations.
  • Engage Expert Witnesses: Expert witnesses can provide technical insights necessary for defending against complex defect claims.
  • Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution: Methods like mediation or arbitration can be effective in resolving disputes without the need for costly and time-consuming litigation.

An experienced construction litigation attorney can assist you with these requirements to support a more robust defense against any relevant lawsuits. 

Furukawa Castles LLP: Experienced Construction Litigation and Defense Professionals

The realm of construction defect litigation in California is complex and challenging. Companies must stay informed about the common types of allegations and understand the defenses available to them. Proactive measures, such as thorough contract drafting, maintaining detailed records, and understanding legal obligations, can significantly mitigate the risk of construction defect claims. At Furukawa Castles LLP, our team of construction litigation attorneys is prepared to defend construction firms and professionals against allegations of defects, negligence, fraud, contract disputes, and more. Schedule your consultation today to learn how we can protect you from the negative impacts of these lawsuits.