A December decision in California should lessen the financial responsibility of contractors involved in construction defect litigation in that state. In Jimenez v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court ruled that two window manufacturers could be held "strictly liable" if their products, installed in a mass-produced home, were found to be defective. Strict liability, according to lawyer Sam Abdulaziz, means "liability without fault;" the burden is to prove simply that the product failed. Abdulaziz -- whose Hollywood, Calif., firm, Abdulaziz and Grossbart, specializes in construction litigation -- says that he believes this is the first time that building component manufacturers have been held strictly liable in a construction defect lawsuit. Before Jimenez, plaintiffs had to prove that products were not in compliance with accepted industry standards. What this means is that another party joins contractors as defendants in construction defect lawsuits. "It's spreading the risk," Abdulaziz says.
Naturally, many building component manufacturers are not pleased with the ruling. They are concerned that, among other things, they could now be held liable for a product that was installed incorrectly or used improperly.
The legislature in the Golden State has also taken a look at the industry lately, with Governor Gray Davis signing Senate Bill 800 last September. The bill was introduced in response to complaints from new home builders who said owners were filing lawsuits without first notifying them of any problems. Among other provisions, SB800 requires homeowners to alert builders to a problem and allow time for repair prior to filing a construction defect lawsuit. For the time being, SB800 will not affect the remodeling industry, because it specifically applies only to new home builders. Similar laws have been passed in seven states, with legislation pending in 14 others.
Jimenez, like many court decisions, is narrowly defined as pertaining to mass-produced homes, and Abdulaziz says he is unsure if the precedent would carry over to other areas of construction. But it seems only a matter of time before similar cases come up in the remodeling industry.