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FL Plans New Squeeze on Defect Suits

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

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How long should builders, contractors and developers be on the hook for latent construction defects that later cause failures in their structures, buildings and homes?

Fifteen years, Florida once decided. Then, the state tightened that to 10 years. Now, it's considering a seven-year limit.

State Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville), sponsor of the new HB 501, says his measure would curb “frivolous” construction defect litigation against builders.

Jay Fant
Official photo

Florida State Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville) says the bill is needed to reduce frivolous lawsuits against builders.

If passed, the new law would be effective July 1. The bill’s first reading was March 3.

Opponents say seven years is not long enough to uncover and sue for defects discovered in design, planning or construction.

The bill also unfairly shifts the burden of pursuing defects to the owners, with no recourse or recovery, Ron Woods, a licensed professional engineer, told First Coast News.

'Every Public Building Out There'

It's not just homeowners who would be affected, either, says Republican lobbyist and former State Sen. Fred Dudley.

The measure would also prevent public entities from suing private contractors for defective construction of public-works projects, Dudley warned the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.

Achim Hering / CC by 3.0

The proposed Florida law would also preclude governments from suing over defective public-works projects, a Republican lobbyist says.

“We're not just talking about single-family homes, which is bad enough,” he said.

“ […] We're talking about every public building out there. Every hospital. Every public school. City Hall. How many of you have had courthouses that have had problems? Right! This bill will limit the ability of local governments to bring suits for those latent defects."

Homeowner Story

First Coast News also highlighted a story about Elizabeth Walsh, a homeowner in Jacksonville, who said her claim against the contractors who built her home would have been barred under the pending bill.

Problems in the home were reportedly discovered eight years after Walsh and her husband purchased the property.

Walsh said the couple eventually had to remove the whole back of the house because of shoddy construction, including improperly installed water barriers, thinly applied stucco, and sections of the wall constructed without insulation, according to the report.

Amid the home's soaking-wet insulation and rotted wood, the contractor even found frogs, Walsh said.

The case is ongoing.

Hot-Button Issue

Florida is not the only state seeking to overhaul construction defects legislation.

homes in Las Vegas
© / SolielC

Builders in Nevada say the lawsuit risks have stopped them from taking on new projects.

In February, Nevada passed a measure reworking the 20-year-old law there.

The changes include restricting the definition of “a home defect” and making homeowners exhaust other options, such as the builder’s warranty and seeking resolution through the Nevada State Contractors Board, before pursuing a lawsuit.

Colorado lawmakers are also debating bills to make the construction defects law in place there more industry-friendly.

The measures include dropping the eight-year statute of limitations to four years.

Supporters of such legislation maintain that the modifications will help revive housing markets and boost construction jobs.


Tagged categories: Business matters; Commercial Construction; Concrete defects; Construction; Government contracts; Laws and litigation; North America; Program/Project Management; Residential Construction; Residential contractors

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