Person Checking Defect in Construction Site

Understanding Construction Defect Lawsuits

William B. Hanley, Attorney At Law Jan. 24, 2022

You’ve just purchased a new home and moved in, expecting everything to be working perfectly. After a few weeks, or a few months, a defect shows up. Perhaps the plumbing springs a leak inside the house or outside where the connection is made to the street with underground pipes. Or perhaps you have an electrical issue. The power to the kitchen or another part of the house keeps shutting off unexpectedly without any action on your part.

What are your rights? Prior to 2003 when the Right to Repair Act—commonly referred to as SB 800—took effect, your rights were limited. You had to prove actual damage or injury, which would be possible if the water leak damaged your flooring, but the electrical malfunction might not qualify unless someone was injured by it.

SB 800 now allows the residential homeowner to seek legal action by merely showing a construction defect exists. The legislation applies only to new construction sold as individual residences. Other laws and legal principles protect buyers of previously owned property.

If you’ve purchased a home and thereafter discovered a defect, and you’re in Irvine or anywhere in the counties of Orange, San Diego, or Los Angeles, California, contact William B. Hanley, Attorney at Law. Attorney Hanley is a 40-year veteran with a proven track record, and he can help you seek to recover any damages or losses resulting from a construction defect.

SB 800 and Construction Defects

The Right to Repair Act is a consumer-friendly piece of legislation that reversed a California Supreme Court decision that limited legal action for construction defects to cases of property damage or personal injury only. Since 2003, developers are now responsible for repairing a defect, or they could face legal action.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs advises:

“Should you discover a defect in the construction of your home, prior to pursuing legal action or responding to a construction defect solicitation, you must first contact your home builder. Under SB 800 (Burton, 2002), homebuilders are given the opportunity to repair your home prior to a legal action being filed.”

Action under SB 800 is available under the legal principle of strict liability. The act itself lists 45 functionality standards. A violation of any one of the 45 can result in an actionable claim. The standards are divided into seven categories: (1) water intrusion issues, (2) structural issues, (3) soil issues, (4) fire protection issues, (5) plumbing and sewer issues, (6) electrical system issues, and (7) a catch-all category regarding other areas of construction.

The act also establishes a 10-year time limit on claims. Some construction categories have shorter limits, however. For instance, there is a one-year limit for irrigation, draining, and manufactured product issues. Plumbing, sewer, and electrical defects are limited to four years. It should be noted, however, that courts have been known to reinterpret some of these limitations based on the circumstances of an individual case.

Since there is a 10-year window on most major construction defects, a subsequent buyer may also be able to invoke SB 800 depending on the terms and conditions of the sale.

Strict Liability, Negligence, and Breach of Contracts & Warranties

The doctrine of strict liability has always applied in California, even prior to SB 800, but in breach of contract cases, there has to be property damage or personal injury. The distinction of SB 800 is that it allows the homebuyer to take legal action if the developer, once advised of a defect, fails to correct it in a timely manner.

Legal action can also be undertaken for other longstanding legal reasons, but generally, there must be personal injury, damage, or loss involved. 

If, for instance, the builder/developer offers a contract with the purchase, and the buyer is subsequently injured by a defect in construction, a breach of contract lawsuit can be filed. The same holds true if the developer offers a warranty. If a defect leads to serious injury, a breach of warranty lawsuit against the developer can be launched.

A warranty, it should be noted, can be either express (written out) or implied. California courts have long held that developers are bound by an implied warranty that the completed structure was designed and constructed in a reasonably workmanlike manner. 

Negligence is another legal standard that can be employed. Developers have a duty of care toward future homeowners, and if they breach that duty of care through negligence, a lawsuit can be initiated. Say, for instance, the construction crew fails to construct a stairway to code and someone is injured using the stairs because of less-than-standard construction. A lawsuit based on negligence could be available.

Misrepresentation or Fraud by Developers

If the developer deliberately misrepresents the condition of the home being purchased or withholds information about known defects, legal action is also possible. This course of action often results when the developer is shown to have filed misleading information with the California Department of Real Estate or otherwise withheld information about defects or poor workmanship from the homebuyer.

Contact William B. Hanley, Attorney at Law for Help

With four decades’ experience in real estate litigation and construction litigation, Attorney Hanley has the knowledge and resources to help you with any issue regarding defects in your residence. 

If you discover a defect in a home you’ve purchased, whether new construction or an existing residence, Bill knows which laws and legal principles apply to your situation. Contact him to review your circumstances and understand your best options going forward.