The Washington Supreme Court recently published an opinion that appears to invalidate any homebuyer warranty that requires the buyer to file suit in less than six years. In Tadych v. Noble Ridge Construction, Inc., the owners of a custom home sued their builder for breach of warranty three years after occupying the home. Their
On December 13, 2019, I will be giving a presentation on construction-related topics arising from commercial lease improvements. The presentation is part of a two-day seminar on Advanced Commercial Real Estate Leases, co-chaired by my colleague, John A. Fandel, and hosted by Law Seminars International. Topic will include insurance coverage, mechanic’s liens, scheduling, indemnity, safety,…
A common insurance question asked by our owner/developer clients when they discover that their completed project has defects is whether their own insurance will cover the cost to fix the defect or any damage from the defect. While trying hard not to sound like the proverbial lawyer, we often have to say “it depends.” What…
Can parties waive both the commencement and length of the statutory limitation periods for construction defect actions? Yes, answered the Fourth Appellate District, by allowing the parties to contractually preclude the application of the “delayed discovery” rule that normally triggers the commencement of the limitation time period and affirming case law permitting the shortening of the 10-year latent limitation period to four years. The court did hold, however, that such waiver and shortening is permitted where there are sophisticated parties, in a commercial context, and perhaps that the contract must even be highly negotiated (or at least such negotiation is available).
On June 3, 2013, in Brisbane Lodging, L.P. v. Webcor Builders, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App., June 3, 2013, No. A132555) 2013 WL 2404154, the appellate court reviewed the trial judge’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the general contractor (“Webcor”) on the grounds that a provision in the 1997 version of the AIA 201 (General Conditions to the prime agreement between Owner and Contractor) unambiguously barred all claims, contract and tort, brought more than four years after substantial completion of the project, rather than four years after the Owner discovered the alleged breach or defect and within the 10-year statute of repose. The key language for both the trial court and the appellate court was found in provision 13.7:
“13.7 Commencement of Statutory Limitation Period
“13.7.1 As between the Owner and Contractor:
“.1 Before Substantial Completion. As to acts or failures to act occurring prior to the relevant date of Substantial Completion, any applicable statute of limitations shall commence to run and any alleged cause of action shall be deemed to have accrued in any and all events not later than such date of Substantial Completion ….” (AIA A201, Article 18.104.22.168 (Article 22.214.171.124), bolding and capitalization omitted.)
There are now 25 states in the U.S. that hold that construction defects are not an “occurrence” and are therefore not covered under commercial general liability policies insuring contractors. Couple this troubling statistic with the ever increasing number of policy exclusions and limitations, and we begin to realize that in many situations the contractor’s insurance policy is inadequate (or non-existent) protection against defects.
The importance of performance bonds as security to pay for construction defects is therefore growing. While some sureties who sell the bonds will tell you that bonds merely guarantee completion, and do not insure against latent defects, the language of the typical bond defies this position.
Bonds plainly state that they guarantee each and every obligation of the contractor under the contract. Those obligations usually include the duty to perform work according to the plans and specifications, the standard of care, and without defect or nonconformity. This author has not seen a bond that attempts to carve out construction defects from its coverage. And bonds do not have the host of exclusions or limited coverage grants that plague the value of insurance policies. By the same token, bonds are not perfect and owners should consider the following to get the most protection from a bond:
First, the bond duration should extend at least as long as the warranty period (typically one year from completion but sometimes longer) and for as many years thereafter as possible, up to the statute of repose period in the state in which the project is located. Because construction defects often appear years after completion, the bond duration is critical. You may pay more for a bond with a longer duration, but if the bond is needed, you should be paying less for the unreliable insurance carried by the contractor.