It’s unfortunate that some builders and contractors fail to follow building codes and other standards during construction. If you’re a homeowner, you put your trust in a contractor to follow a certain standard and do a job that lasts.
Construction negligence can also affect condominium associations, commercial property owners, and homeowners associations. If you hired someone to do a job, and they failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care or skill, then you may be entitled to damages should your structure fail or cause harm.
To better understand construction negligence and whether you’ve been wronged by careless construction, learn more about the law and what you can do to make it right.
Understanding Construction Negligence
To avoid negligence in construction, a reasonable degree of knowledge, care, and skill must be exercised by the contractor, subcontractor, developer, or other parties involved. During construction, builders must apply their skills to construct a safe structure that follows all building codes and standards.
A civil lawsuit may entitle homeowners to recover any damages for injuries or losses that result from poor or negligent construction.
It’s important to note if the contractor or builder:
- acted with reasonable care, or
- acted carelessly in a way that contributed to damage, losses, or injuries
If you want to know if your contractor or builder can be held legally responsible for structural defects that failed or caused harm, it starts with understanding the duty of care.
Construction Negligence And Duty Of Care
Duty of care refers to the degree of responsibility of those in charge during construction. It’s the duty of the person or persons in charge to prevent accidents and construction defects during the project. This duty of care extends to anyone who may be affected by defects or injuries, including the homeowner or a subsequent purchaser of the property.
Who Is Responsible For Duty Of Care?
During construction, many different professionals may assume supervisory or leadership roles.
Any number of individuals may be responsible for compromising work safety or the structural integrity of the building site, including:
- project managers
Professionals are likely held to a high standard of care and are expected to have specialized skills. To achieve a standard of care, those in charge will need to make sure the work is performed within the acceptable standards of workmanship.
Common Examples Of Construction Negligence
Construction negligence encompasses a wide range of problems, from structural defects to passing along false information.
To better understand construction negligence, consider a few examples:
- A builder or contractor installs a stucco finish on a residential property but did not follow building codes or standards. The property suffers rainwater or moisture intrusion, subsequently rotting the wood frame. The contractor or builder may be liable for damages.
- An architect gives inaccurate information to a contractor for digging a trench. The contractor starts to dig but damages a water pipe. As a result, a neighbor’s property floods. Because it’s the architect’s duty to give accurate information, the architect may be legally responsible for the flood.
- During the construction of a house, a contractor builds a defective foundation. The original homeowner later sells the house to a new owner. This new owner discovers structural issues that are just coming to light.
- Even though the contractor had a contract with the original owner, the contractor may still be liable to the new owner for poor workmanship and compromising the integrity of the structure.
Other examples of negligence in construction may include:
- reckless behavior
- equipment accidents
- failing to obtain necessary permits
- taking shortcuts to cut costs on material and labor
- construction defects
Defining Construction Defects
A construction defect refers to a deficiency in construction that leads to structural failure or causes injurious or financial damages to persons or property. For cases of construction negligence, it’s important to understand what constitutes a defect.
Construction defects are known as either latent or patent. Patent defects are obvious and can be easily discovered during an inspection. Latent defects are harder to discover, may be missed during an inspection, and can be more problematic overall.
Construction negligence may be applicable to the three main types of construction defects:
1. Design Defects
A design defect occurs when a professional fails to design a construction plan that’s well-organized and accurate. If errors were present in the design, but the construction moved forward anyway, the person in charge may be liable for negligence.
2. Material Defects
If a builder or contractor uses inadequate or damaged building materials to erect a structural, then it can lead to a material defect. Because these materials may be used before anyone is aware of a deficiency, fixing it is costly and time-consuming. Negligence can be applied to this as well.
3. Workmanship Defects
This defect is a clear example of construction negligence. Workmanship defects occur when a contractor fails to build a structure that follows certain standards or building codes. It can lead to structural failure, foundation problems, aesthetic issues, and other harms.
How Do Courts Establish Construction Negligence?
Once contracted, construction professionals are trusted to use reasonable skill, care, and workmanship. If their work causes some kind of harm, including injuries, structural defects, or financial losses, they may have been negligent in their actions.
However, establishing negligence in a court of law is complicated. You’ll need an attorney with experience in construction defect or negligence cases.
For a plaintiff to win a case regarding construction negligence, they must prove five elements:
1. Duty And Standard Of Care
As explained above, this element refers to the duty a contractor or builder had to the homeowner who hired them. Duty of care in construction negligence cases refers to whether those in charge had a duty to act with a standard of care towards the homeowner.
For simple contractor to homeowner cases, proving care of duty is pretty straightforward. Consider this example: if a homeowner hires a contractor to install stucco, then the contractor has a duty to the homeowner to install it in a way that acts as a barrier to the structure.
2. Breach Of Duty
Even though duty can be easily established in certain cases, this alone isn’t enough to prove negligence. Your attorney will need to prove that the builder or contractor breached or failed to honor their duty. This means they acted without care and failed to meet the terms of the contract.
Breach of duty is decided by a jury or judge and will be a major factor in the case. If the contractor installed stucco, for example, but the property suffered water damage from poor installation, then the judge or jury would decide if the contractor failed to use reasonable care during construction.
3. Cause In Fact
Your attorney must also prove that the builder or contractor’s actions actually caused injury, loss, or damages. You suffered an injury or loss that could otherwise have been avoided if the contractor or builder never breached their duty of care.
In a case of poor stucco installation, your lawyer will have to prove that there never would have been any water damage to the property if the stucco had been properly installed in the first place.
4. Proximate Cause/Remoteness
This refers to the scope of the contractor or builder’s responsibility. The contractor is only held responsible for any harm that could have been foreseen through their reasonable skill and action.
In other words, if the damage were outside the scope of the contractor’s skill or work, then the homeowner will have a hard time proving they were the cause of the damage.
To better understand this, consider the stucco example. Poor stucco installation led to water damage in the house. This could have been foreseen by the contractor because they have the expertise to know that proper stucco installation can prevent water damage.
However, if a neighbor’s underground water pipe bursts and floods the plaintiff’s house, then the contractor couldn’t have foreseen a third party’s influence on the situation. The homeowner’s neighbor is remote or not proximate to what the contractor was working on at the house.
A homeowner must prove that the property was damaged as a result of the builder or contractor’s work. It simply isn’t enough to prove that the contractor neglected to use reasonable care and skill. Their neglect must cause real damages to the homeowner.
For the stucco example, this may include:
- a rotting wood frame
- water-soaked insulation
- mold growth
- structural damage
- electrical problems
What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Construction Negligence Claims?
The statute of limitations for construction negligence depends on state and local law, as well as the type of injury or damage accrued by the homeowner. In Florida, for example, a claim for construction negligence or defects must be filed within four years.
However, there are exceptions to these cases, with some timelines lasting as long as 10 years. It’s best to consult with an attorney to ensure you understand the statutes of limitations and how to move forward with a case.
How An Attorney Can Assist In Your Construction Negligence Case
Because construction negligence cases are complicated, hiring an attorney is essential. There are countless moving parts when it comes to construction. There may be numerous disputes and various regulations that complicate your legal pursuits.
If you hire an attorney, they’ll likely help with:
An attorney can help you assess the damages. The damage may be obvious in some cases, but due to the complexities of the construction field, an attorney can help you determine how the negligent work of the contractor directly lead to damages, injuries, or losses.
Finding Qualified Professionals To Evaluate
Attorneys may work alongside engineers or other qualified professionals who can help evaluate the structure and whether it was built within the applicable standards of care. If you work with an experienced attorney, they’ll likely have a list of professionals they’ve worked with in the past.
Local And State Laws
Construction law is rooted in local and state legislation. You’ll need an attorney who has a fundamental understanding of the local law where the construction took place.
Finding An Expert Witness
You may find your case requires the testimony of an expert witness. In regards to construction negligence, an expert witness can help prove that the builder or contractor did not execute their work with reasonable care or skill.
Expert witnesses may be other contractors, builders, architects, or anyone with specialized knowledge of the construction in question. An experienced attorney will know who to call as an expert witness.
Construction Negligence Attorneys Serving The U.S.
Deciding to move forward with a construction negligence case can be overwhelming. At Florin|Roebig, we can help guide you through the process and evaluate any damages that stemmed from negligent construction.
Our qualified team of construction negligence attorneys includes:
- Wil H. Florin, B.C.S.
- Tommy D. Roebig, B.C.S.
- Michael L. Walker, B.C.S.
- Chase P. Florin, B.C.S.
- Neil P. O’Brien, M.B.A.
- Shaun M. Cummings
- Luca G. Esposito
- Chad K. Florin, M.B.A., LL.M.
- Nicholas S. Costantino
- Jordan A. Kolinski
- Parker Y. Florin, LL.M.
- Taylor D. Roebig
- Kavon P. Smith
- Matthew L. McMullen
- Michael A. Ossi, O.C.
- Lawrence J. Najem, O.C.
- Andrew M. Leone, O.C.
- Nollys R. Solarte, O.C.
- Brian R. Dettman, O.C.
Find Legal Help For Filing A Construction Negligence Claim
Our team at Florin|Roebig specializes in civil law, including construction negligence cases. These cases are complicated, so it’s crucial to go with a firm that understands construction law and has a proven track record of success.
Once you contact our office, you’ll receive a free case evaluation with a construction attorney to see where you stand with your case.
Homeownership can be a financial burden, so don’t let avoidable and costly mistakes make you regret one of the biggest purchases of your life. Contact us today to get started with your case evaluation and correct any damages caused by reckless construction.