In terms of construction defect litigation, we generally divide the broad spectrum of deficiencies that my firm handles into two very general categories: 1) Craftsmanship Deficiencies; and 2) Fundamental Deficiencies.
Craftsmanship deficiencies are issues with the quality of construction that tend to be primarily cosmetic in nature and then there are significant defects that are worthy of a lawsuit. Common examples of these types of defects are cabinets that may have chipped areas or areas in the home where caulk has dried out and separated. These type of issues, while certainly not good craftsmanship, rarely warrant the time and expenses of a lawsuit and do not impact the usability of a home or pose a potential life/safety risk; however, in certain circumstances, these types of issues can be an indicator of a larger problem in the construction of the home that warrants a closer assessment , such as if they develop in multiple areas over time and are not due to lack of maintenance.
Fundamental deficiencies are issues that do impact the integrity of the home and often impact or involve the foundation or support structure, the exterior cladding or penetrations (such as windows, doors, roof) or mechanical systems (HVAC, electrical, etc.) in the home. Signs of these type of fundamental deficiencies often are water staining on the interior of the home, large cracks in the foundation or interior sheetrock, or other similar signs that there is a problem behind the finishes in the home. These resulting signs or symptoms of a fundamental deficiencies often gradually worsen over time, and it can take years for them to become apparent to a typical homeowner. These types of deficiencies are also typically latent or not obvious without an inspection behind the finishes conducted by a qualified forensic engineer or similar expert. The defects can also present suddenly, such as a water leak in a roof that results in water damage to a ceiling following a storm. However, these issues are often present during original construction but do not become apparent to a homeowner until long after they moved into a home.
What Types Of Damages Can Be Recovered In A Construction Defect Claim?
The primary measure in most construction defect cases is the estimated cost of repairing the deficiencies. Although used less frequently, another potential measure of damages’’ is the difference between the value of the house had it been constructed properly, and the actual value of the house with the deficiencies that exist. Other damages, such as loss of use and the cost of inspections and temporary repairs, can also be recoverable in some cases. Last, when a liable party’s conduct is egregious or rises to the level of reckless then a homeowner can possibly recover punitive damages.
Are There Any Time Limits In Filing A Lawsuit For Construction Defects?
Absolutely. The statute of limitations is generally three years from the date a reasonable person (an imaginary, objective standard) knew or should have known they may have a claim. This is typically triggered when a homeowner becomes aware of significant issues with their home or has problems or repairs performed by a third party.
The second time limit on construction defect lawsuits is the eight (8) year statute of repose. This time limit begins to run from the date the certificate of occupancy was issued or when the work was completed. It runs regardless of notice and is a very strong defense with extremely limited exceptions.
These time-based defenses will often result in the dismissal of a lawsuit regardless of the merit of the claims. It is very important that homeowners do not delay or put off contacting an attorney if they believe their home has significant deficiencies due to the way it was built.
Another important and potential hurdle to bringing a construction defect claim is based on the South Carolina Notice and Opportunity to Cure Construction Dwelling Defects Act. Under the Act, a homeowner has to give a contractor notice of a defect and the opportunity to inspect it before filing a lawsuit. Although there is not a lot of law on this Act, presently, a homeowner that has a defect repaired without giving the original contractor an opportunity to inspect it can also be barred from bringing a claim.
Who Can Potentially Be Held Liable In A Construction Defects Claim?
In most circumstances, South Carolina Law allows homeowners to pursue claims against the general contractor and all of the subcontractors or any other entities involved in performing work on the project (sub-subcontractors, etc.). There can also be claims against design professionals such as the architect or engineer that designed the project if the deficiencies are due to the way a project was designed. It truly depends on the facts and circumstances of each case and requires a thorough evaluation by professionals with experience in this area.
Should I Make Any Repairs While The Lawsuit Is Pending? Can I Recover Those Costs?
Yes, a homeowner may make repairs while the lawsuit is pending and seek those costs if they are due to defective construction. However, the better approach is to limit repairs during the litigation to emergency repairs. This is an issue that is often best addressed on a case specific basis.
Can I Sell My Home During A Pending Lawsuit?
You can sell your home, but selling a home with known defects is difficult and comes with a host of issues, including the potential for exposing yourself to liability if the issues are not properly disclosed to potential purchasers.
Will A Lawsuit Drive Down The Value Of My Home Or Not?
A lawsuit does not drive down the value of a home. It is the defects in the construction that reduce a home’s value. A lawsuit may allow you to obtain money in order to have the necessary repairs completed and help restore the value of the home. Without a lawsuit, the defects will still exist and need to be properly repaired regardless of the lawsuit. The question is where does all the money come from to pay for the necessary repairs?
What Can Hiring Your Firm Do For Me To Help Recover Damages For Construction Defects?
The initial step is to put a proven approach into place, including an initial evaluation of the relevant documents and condition of the property. I have seen many people focus on and obsess over problems that do not warrant a lawsuit. I have seen others, despite the signs of significant defects, allow too much time to pass to the point where they no longer have a strong claim or any claim at all. Until an experienced attorney evaluates your potential case you will not truly know what can and should be done. You also will not know if the responsibility for the issues you are experiencing and the costs of repairing those issues are the responsibility of the contractor, subcontractors, or design professionals involved in the construction of your home. Contacting my firm is the best first step you can take.