Construction Law Blog
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Subcontractor Allowed to Sue Designer for Negligence: California Courts Chip Away at the Economic Loss Doctrine (Independent Duty Rule)
An architect may have to pay over $1 million to a subcontractor who was contractually obligated to rely on the designer’s plans – even though the architect was not a party to the contract. That was the ruling in U.S. f/u/b/o Penn Air Control, Inc. v. Bilbro Constr. Co., Inc. The dispute involved a $7.3 million design-build contract award to Bilbro Construction (“Bilbro”) to renovate a facility for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Monterey, California.
Bilbro hired an architect (“FPBA”) to serve as the designer of record and provide all the architectural design services. FPBA’s design team included an acoustical sub-consultant (Sparling). The general contractor (design builder) also retained Alpha Mechanical (Alpha) as the mechanical electrical and plumbing (“MEP”) design/build subcontractor.
Many construction contracts contain a termination clause that allows a contractor to be terminated either for convenience or for cause. Termination for convenience and termination for cause clauses have been discussed previously on the blog here, here, and here. The distinction between a termination for convenience or for cause is an important one.
If a contractor is terminated for convenience, the rights of the party who has terminated the contractor for convenience could be limited in the future. This is specifically true as to any defects in the terminated contractor’s work that are discovered after the termination for convenience.
Washington Courts allow an insurer to determine its duty to defend an insured against a lawsuit based only on the face of the complaint and the limitations of the insurance policy. This is otherwise known as the “eight corners” rule (four corners of the complaint plus the four corners of the policy). In other words, the insurance company is not permitted to rely on facts extrinsic to the complaint in order to deny its duty to defend an insured. See Truck Ins. Exch. v. VanPort Homes, Inc., 147 Wn.2d 751, 763 (2002). The laws in Washington provide greater protection to the insured over the insurer when it comes to the insurer’s duty to defend. The duty to defend a claim is triggered if a claim could “conceivably” be covered under the policy. See Woo v. Fireman’s Insurance, 161 Wn.2d 43 (2007). If there is any ambiguity in a policy with regard to coverage, the ambiguity is interpreted in favor of the insured.
Implied warranties are warranties created by law, legislation, or courts. In the construction industry, one of the most prominent implied warranties is that owners who provide plans and specifications to their contractors impliedly warrant the adequacy of their plans and specifications.[i] That implied warranty had its beginning in the 1918 US Supreme Court decision of U.S. v. Spearin[ii] and is, therefore, popularly known as the Spearin Doctrine. Under the Spearin Doctrine, if the contractor completes the work in accordance with the owner’s plans and specifications, but there is a deficiency or failure, the owner, not the contractor, is responsible. When the owner breaches its implied warranty, in most instances, the contractor is entitled to additional compensation for extra work performed, delays experienced, and other additional expense or loss occasioned by the warranty breach. A recent case demonstrates that this implied warranty is not “immunity.” The contractor must still act reasonably and diligently, particularly when the contract provisions so require.
Indemnity Clauses That Conflict with Oregon Indemnity Statute Can Remain Partially Valid and Enforceable
When the indemnity provision of a contract conflicts with ORS 30.140, it is voided to the extent that it conflicts with the statute, but no more. Such provisions can remain partially valid and enforceable.[i] In Montara Owner Assn., the owner brought claims against the contractor for construction defects and damage relating to the construction of 35 townhouses. Contractor then brought third-party claims against more than 20 subcontractors for breach of contract and indemnity. Before trial, contractor settled with all but one subcontractor. The subcontract contained an indemnity provision requiring subcontractor to indemnify contractor for losses arising out of subcontractor’s work, including losses caused in part by contractor’s own negligence.
Oregon Court of Appeals Rules That Negligent Construction (Construction Defect) Claims Are Subject to a Two-Year Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are distinct from statutes of repose. There is a lot of confusion between the two.
Generally, a statute of limitations is a law which sets the maximum period of time which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. The periods vary by state and by type of claim. Most states also employ a “discovery rule,” which provides that the statute of limitations does not “accrue” until such time as the plaintiff knew or should have reasonably known that the injury or property damage has occurred.
On May 3, 2016, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed a jury’s verdict in favor of a condominium HOA against a structural engineer for $1,149,332 in damages.
The project in question was The Pointe, an upscale condominium building in Westport, Washington. The developer was Dodson-Duus, LLC. The architect was Elkins Architects (“Elkins”). The structural engineer was Engineers Northwest, Inc. (“ENW”). ENW contracted with Elkins for the structural engineering work.
Release from Condominium Owners Association Precludes Claims by General Contractor Against Subcontractor, Except for Defense Costs
Recently, the Washington State Court of Appeals addressed a dispute between a general contractor and its windows subcontractor in connection with the construction of the Admiral Way Mixed-Use Project in West Seattle.
In Bordak Bros., Inc. v. Pac. Coast Stucco, LLC, the developer of the Admiral Way Mixed-Use Project hired Ledcor Industries (USA), Inc. (“Ledcor”) as its general contractor, and Ledcor hired Starline Windows, Inc. (“Starline”) to supply window products for the Project. After the Project was completed, the Condominium Owners Association (“COA”) discovered defects in the building and sued the developer, who then brought suit against Ledcor. Ledcor then commenced suit against its subcontractors and suppliers. Ledcor did not initially name Starline as a defendant to its claims.
There were a few developments this month in the federal government procurement arena that are likely of interest to our readers:
As previously reported, the Harmon Tower, a new unfinished building located on the Las Vegas strip purportedly had such substantial structural defects that it was slated to be demolished. Read our previous blog post here. Seattleites are well-acquainted with new buildings being razed before their time. The McGuire Building, a 25-story apartment in Belltown built in 2001, was taken apart piece-by-piece in 2011 and 2012 due to corroding post-tension rods throughout the concrete structure.