Attorneys are often called upon to bring together many different areas of law when serving their clients. Nowhere is that more apparent than when dealing with construction defects. For individuals and businesses, it's an area that can be incredibly frustrating, as they try to cope with everything from the visible (like cracks in walls) to the invisible (like toxic mold). For attorneys, it means bringing together the very different worlds of contract law and tort law to find the best solution for their clients.
Under contract law, builders and their subcontractors have been found liable for construction defects when they have failed to adhere to specifications in the contract, or for warranties they either expressly made or that were implied. In other cases, it's the contract between the buyer and seller that comes under scrutiny, and again the issue is often warranties made by the seller.
For instance, Arizona law recognizes certain implied warranties in new home construction, such as that the construction be "done in a workmanlike manner and that the structure is habitable." This implied warranty even extends to subsequent buyers of the home.
In other cases, tort law (the law governing injuries) comes into play. A builder might be found negligent for breaching a legally-recognized duty, or for failure to warn the building's new owners about dangerous conditions associated with the building that the builder either knew about or should have known about.
Construction defects generally fall into one of four categories:
- Design defects, such as problems with the architect's plans
- Material defects, as were recently seen with inferior Chinese-manufactured drywall
- Construction defects, such as poor plumbing resulting in water damage
- Subsurface defects, often found when the builder does not account for the type of soil and the building settles unevenly, causing cracks
Often with construction defects, the first sign of a problem only hints at a larger issue. That's why it's important to quickly address any problems in a building as soon as they're discovered. Even if the problem only appears to be cosmetic, like cracks in stucco, it could be a sign of serious structural problems. Home and building owners should talk to an experienced builder or remodeler about any problems they spot. And if they do have a problem, they should also talk to an experienced attorney to protect their legal rights to compensation for those problems.