A Construction Law Primer
Given the Number of Potential "Players" and Issues Involved, Lawsuits Involving Construction Problems Qualify as the Proverbial "Legal Battlefield"
Construction defects can, and often do, quickly turn a building project
into the proverbial legal battlefield whether you are the architect,
contractor or developer being sued for an alleged defect, or the
property owner or community association actually bringing the claim
The issues range from the sheer number of defendants potentially
involved, to identifying the precise nature of the problem, to securing
and preserving relevant evidence.
Generally, construction defects can be classified into three
categories: improper design, defective building materials or
faulty workmanship. And therein lies the rub. Because there
may be different professionals involved in one or more of the categories
– none of whom wants to shoulder responsibility for the problem –
construction litigation often entails much finger-pointing as to who is
at fault with the potential result of many defendants and
cross-defendants being brought into the suit.
The developer, design professional, and contractor are all
potentially responsible. Historically, however, North Carolina
courts have recognized that the various participants in the construction
process are liable only for those defects that fall within their
respective areas of expertise. For example, a contractor who
builds a structure according to the design supplied by the owner
generally is not responsible for the adequacy of the design.
In most cases, the plaintiff in a construction case will
need to retain an independent expert. Experts have the necessary
training, education, and experience to give testimony in court as to the
cause of a defect. To take an easy example, if your roof leaks,
you will quite likely call upon a roof expert whose “curriculum vitae”
or resumé includes the fact that he or she has a depth of experience in
designing and/or building roofs, and otherwise evaluated other defective
roof systems. Such a person would be in a good position to
testify as to what is wrong with the plaintiff’s roof. By
contrast, a general or roofing contractor may be great at repairing a
damaged roof, but he or she may not be the best person to act as an
expert in the case, particularly if the problem lies with the original
design rather than faulty material or workmanship.
In addition to the problem of “finger-pointing” and finding
the proper expert, another typical issue in construction cases is the
evidence itself. The defect may not be apparent or discovered
immediately and, under North Carolina law, claims on construction
defects may be filed against builders months or even years after
completion of the project. This means that evidence can be difficult to
track down, creating significant challenges to establishing or defending
Generally, the measure of damages is the cost to correct, repair, or replace the defective building component.
In a word, construction law is complex inasmuch as it can
involve myriad parties who worked on the project – architects,
contractors and sub-contractors – and sifting through detailed building
plans and extensive local and state building codes.
If you are involved in a construction defect claim, one of
the most important steps you can take to secure your rights is to
immediately contact an attorney experienced in construction law.
Informed legal advice can help you understand all of your legal options
and can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of your case.
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