Builders seek to build homes in conformity with local building codes and industry standards. Sometimes their work falls short. If that happens, a property owner may be entitled to pursue a negligence claim against the builder.
Negligence claims are among the most common claims asserted against builders. While the term “negligence” is commonly thrown about, it has a specific legal meaning. A builder is negligent if they fail to perform their work in accordance with the standard of care in the industry. In some cases, the standard of care is national, meaning that all builders nation-wide perform their work in the same way. In most cases, the standard of care is local, because building code’s differ from place to place and construction practices vary depending on climate and other factors.
Standards of Care
To determine whether a builder has acted negligently in performing their work, you must first determine whether their work meets the standard of care. There are three primary sources for determining whether a builder has met their standard of care.
The first, and most obvious source for ascertaining the standard of care is the local building code. A builder who fails to meet the minimum standards of the building code has likely acted negligently. The building code, however, is a minimum standard, and the local standard of care often requires that a builder’s work exceed the building code. But, the building code often fails to specify the precise means and method for achieving a given result. For instance, the building code may require that a home be “water tight,” while not specifying how water tightness is to be achieved.
The second source for determining a builder’s standard of care is by consulting with industry experts, like other contractors or professional engineers. Professional engineers commonly testify about the standard of care for achieving water tightness in buildings. The hallmark of a expert in this context is that they are able to testify that a certain construction practice is standard in the local construction industry.
The third source for determining a builder’s standard of care are construction specifications and materials published by product manufacturers. Product manufacturers often publish specific instructions about how their product should be installed. A builder may be negligent for failing to follow those instructions. However, variation from the manufacturer’s instructions will not always be negligent. A builder may have a good reason for failing to follow those instructions. They may conflict with the local building code or be ill suited to the local climate.
While the hallmark of a negligence claim is the builder’s breach of duty, a negligence claim also requires proof that the builder’s negligence has caused damage. Often the damage is obvious. For instance, if a builder negligently installed a window, the damage may be that the property owner will incur the cost to reinstall the window properly. The shoddy installation may have contributed to greater damage as well, including moisture behind the walls, wet insulation, and rotting wood.
Statute of Limitations
A negligence claim against a builder must be asserted within 2 years of discovery of the negligence.