Construction Law Watch

Property Developers Need to Take Extra Steps to Protect Themselves from ADA and FHA Liabilities

Posted in Compliance Issues, Insurance Coverage

The federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) require property developers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals. In turn, property owners rely on their architect and engineer to design compliant projects. If a project is not compliant, it is typical thinking that the property owner will seek indemnification and defense from the architect or engineer who was paid and insured to make it compliant.

The federal courts prohibit this, however. That is because the national consensus is that the FHA and ADA preempt state contractual law. The courts have looked at the statutes for an express private right of indemnification by an owner against a negligent designer, and they have not found one. As such, they hold that the requirements of the FHA and ADA on property owners are “non-delegable,” and that the liability for their breach cannot be shifted on to any other party.

The recent case of The Chicago Housing Authority v. Destefano and Partners, Ltd., 45 N.E.3d 767, 2015 IL App (1st) 142870 (2016) is illustrative. There, a review by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) revealed a range of noncompliance issues at seven properties, necessitating over $4 Million in renovations and new work. The Housing Authority had worked with the architects and engineers expressly to achieve compliance, requiring compliance in the design contracts. The Housing Authority therefore sued the architect and engineer to recover the cost of achieving compliance, under both breach of contract and indemnity theories.

The Illinois Court reviewed a lead case on the matter, Equal Rights Center v. Niles Bolton Associates, 602 F.3d 597 (4th Cir. 2010), noting that the federal trend has been consistent that property owners cannot contractually delegate their duty to comply with the federal accessibility standards. The Illinois Court ultimately held that the Housing Authority had no recourse against its designers whose negligence had caused the noncompliance, because no recourse was provided for in the governing federal standards. Recently, contractors have also been taking advantage of this caselaw to further isolate developers when claims arise. Continue Reading

10 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Chances of Getting Paid

Posted in Construction Contracts
  1. Educate Yourself About the Project. If you are working with an owner that is new to you or if you are a subcontractor working with a general contractor with whom you have not worked previously, ask others about their reputation. Before venturing into a relationship, investigate the project’s financing and the reputation of those holding the purse strings.
  2. Condition Your Bid. Condition your bid on fair contract terms. This need not be limited to boilerplate exclusions and clarifications. Instead use the bid process as an opportunity to set the stage for contract negotiating.
  3. Read Your Contract Before Signing It. Even if the contract appears to be a standard AIA or Consensus Doc, read it. Scrutinize it. Make sure you understand it and make efforts to negotiate those terms that ask you to take on unbalanced risk.
  4. This Means Read All of the Contract Documents. Read all exhibits as closely – if not more closely – than the contract itself. Exhibits can include lien waiver forms, broad indemnity agreements and change order forms that release various rights otherwise set forth in the contract. If you are a subcontractor, ask for and review the prime contract as most subcontracts incorporate the prime contract, plans, specifications and all addenda thereto.
  5. Be on the Lookout for Risk-Shifting Clauses. As part of your risk management practice, develop a list of contract provisions that have caused you problems on past projects. Examples include: pay-if-paid vs. pay-when-paid clauses, overbroad indemnity clauses that ask you to indemnify against the indemnitee’s own negligence or to indemnify direct rather than third-party claims, no damages for delay clauses where the delay was caused by the owner, etc.

Continue Reading

Oregon Court Endorses Broad Definition of “Property Damage”

Posted in Insurance Coverage, Property Damage

In a recent case, the Oregon District Court adopted a liberal interpretation of “property damage.” The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association (OSF) suffered a loss during its season: nearby wildfires caused smoke to infiltrate a partially outdoor theater where performances were being held, necessitating cancellations. Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association v. Great American Insurance Company, 2016 WL 3267247 at 1-3 (D. Or. June 7, 2016).

OSF’s insurance policy covered “direct physical loss or damage” to its property and the “actual loss of Business Income” caused by such loss or damage. Id. at 4. Thus, to get coverage for the business losses it sustained by cancelling performances, OSF had to show that the smoke infiltration, the undisputed reason for the cancellations, was “direct physical loss or damage” to property.

OSF argued that “physical loss or damage” means “any injury or harm to a natural or material thing.” Id. at 5. Great American Insurance, OSF’s insurer, argued that air is not “property,” and that covered damage must be “physical”—not just smoky air. Id. at 5-6. The court agreed with OSF, holding that Great American’s definition was too restrictive: there was nothing in the policy, the court said, to suggest contaminated indoor air is not covered, nor could Great American explain why air is not “physical.” Id. The court explained: Continue Reading

Don’t Fret Your Flip: Mitigating Risks Particular to Homes Renovated for Resale

Posted in Construction Contracts, Due Diligence, Selling a home

The breathless growth of Portland’s housing market has nurtured a growing income opportunity to developers who purchase homes for renovation and resale; so-called “house flippers.” Such homes not only provide potential profit for developers, but also provide turnkey renovations for home purchasers and improved aesthetics for surrounding neighborhoods. However, misconceptions about the flipping and sale process can spark disputes between developers and their eventual purchasers. Most of these troubles can be avoided through better contracting and more candid communication on both sides. The following are recommended steps toward reducing the risk of future problems, from the perspectives of purchasers and developers.

  1. Purchasers

Recently flipped homes offer the best of both worlds: old-home charm with new-home fit and finish. But that blessing is also a curse, because new renovations can mask undiscovered problems. Too many purchasers see beautiful finishes and promptly neglect the potential for hidden old-home problems. The purchase process – when done right – is more complicated for a flipped home than a new home. Several pieces of advice will help.

The first and best piece of advice is to know your contract. In the recent case of Shell v. The Schollander Companies, Inc., 358 OR 552 (2016), discussed below in a post by David Delmar, an owner sued for construction defects in a home she purchased when new. However, because hers was a contract for sale rather than a contract for construction, a different time limit applied. This distinction between a construction contract and a sale contract is far more critical with a flipped home. Purchasers tend to perceive the seller’s renovations as something akin to new construction and believe that new construction standards should apply. This is not necessarily true; a typical sale contract contains no obligation to perform construction services according to any particular standard. Moreover, the “as-is” clause could prevent a purchaser from asserting certain claims later. Continue Reading

Joint Ventures and Contractor Licensing Requirements in Oregon and Washington

Posted in Licensing

A client recently asked me to confirm when a joint venture must be licensed to bid and perform construction work. I explained that the answer depends on the name of the joint venture, where the work will be performed, and – depending on the state in which work is to be performed – the stage of construction.

Both Washington and Oregon generally require contractors to be registered or licensed to perform construction work in their respective states. RCW 18.27.020 requires every contractor to be registered with Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries to advertise, offer, bid, or perform any construction services in Washington. Similarly, ORS 701.021 requires every contractor to be licensed with Oregon’s Construction Contractor’s Board to offer, bid, or perform any construction services in Oregon.

In Washington, RCW 18.27.065 further provides: Continue Reading

The Focus is on “Discovery” of Claims after Goodwin v. Kingsmen Plastering, Inc.

Posted in Construction Contractors Board, Negligence, Oregon Supreme Court, Uncategorized

Last week, the Oregon Supreme Court held in Goodwin v. Kingsmen Plastering (June 16, 2016), that a property owner must sue a contractor for negligent construction, if at all, within two years of when the property owner “knew or should have known of the injuries or damage that form the basis of their claims” under ORS 12.110(1). The ruling highlights the issue of “discovery,” and appears to be at odds with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rice v. Rabb, 354 Or 721 (2014), which held that a claim for conversion or replevin must be brought within six years of the time “plaintiff knows or reasonably should know of the elements of such claims[.]” What does it take for a property owner to “discover” its claim?

Historically, the Supreme Court has written that claims accrue only after the potential plaintiff discovers “harm (i.e., injury), causation, and tortious conduct.” Gaston v. Parsons, 318 Or 247, 255-256 (1994). The Oregon Supreme Court has held that such language requires not only knowledge of “injury” in a vacuum, but also knowledge of tortious conduct and causation for that damage. Gaston. Continue Reading

Design Professional Firms Selling Prefabricated Accessory Dwelling Units, Building Substructures, or Micro Homes May Be Liable for Breach of Implied Warranty, or Strict Product Liability.

Posted in Implied Warranties, Product Liability

A recent Illinois State Court of Appeals decision has highlighted the distinction between providing a product for sale to the public on the one hand, and providing a service under a contract on the other. Many design firms are now branching out to market and deliver their own products, satisfying a growing market for prefabricated structures, substructures, and building systems while taking advantage of developments in manufacturing coordination. Historically, architects involved solely with design have enjoyed immunity from expanding breach of warranty doctrines. But, as designers enter the stream of commerce to deliver fully manufactured products, that protection may disappear. When they do, design firms may subject themselves to liability for implied warranties and strict liability, concerns typically reserved for manufacturers and builder-sellers. Design firms need to make sure their products are priced to account for this risk and that they are insured for it. Sophisticated customers ordering prefabricated structures, substructures, and building systems from design firms or their subsidiaries should seek proof of the same.

In Board of Managers of Park Point at Wheeling Condominium Ass’n v. Park Point at Wheeling, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) No. 123452, ___N.E.3d___, 2015 WL 9589615 (December 31, 2015), a condominium homeowners association sued an architecture firm for defective design leading to water and air infiltration. The architecture firm had designed the 128-unit complex in 2000, and construction had commenced from 2001 to 2004. The architecture firm did not take part in the construction or sale of the units. Continue Reading

Deep In Repose: New Decision Clarifies Longstanding Confusion

Posted in Oregon Supreme Court, Statute of Repose

Last month, the Oregon Supreme Court issued a decision with important implications for construction litigation. Ball Janik attorneys were heavily involved in the appeal to the Supreme Court.

In Shell v. The Schollander Companies, Inc., 358 Or 552 (2016), the court held that where a home is constructed without a contractual relationship between its builder and its first owner, the applicable statute of repose for negligent construction claims is ten years “from the date of the act or omission complained of.”

The fact that two statutes of repose are potentially applicable to Oregon construction defect litigation has for some time created uncertainty.  Continue Reading

Oregon Federal District Court Applies Recent Developments in Common Law Indemnity to Strict Product Liability Claims

Posted in Negligence, Product Liability

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court issued Eclectic Investment, LLC v. Patterson, 357 Or 25, 346 P3d 468, modified, 357 Or 327 (2015). Eclectic has fundamentally affected pleadings and third-party practice in multi-party tort actions. Previously, it was standard for third-party defendants without a contractual relationship to sue each other for common law indemnity and contribution. Where liability was closely related or possibly overlapping, this was a negotiation tool and a potentially valuable claim. Not anymore. By confirming the elimination of common law indemnity for negligence claims in Oregon, the decision has prompted much argument and motion practice. Parties are now seeking to extend the reach of the several liability statute, ORS 31.610, to eliminate common law indemnity and contribution claims in other contexts.

Of recent note is Wyland v. W. W. Grainger, Inc., No. 3:13-CV-00863-AA, 2015 WL 3657265 (D Or June 11, 2015). There, the plaintiff, a mechanic, was injured on the job when a grinder broke apart. The plaintiff sued the distributor for negligence and strict products liability, and the distributor sought indemnity from the suppliers. The suppliers moved for summary judgment, arguing that Eclectic precluded the distributor from recovering common law indemnity. The Court held that Eclectic did preclude the claim as to negligence, but not as to strict liability. The holding raises at least two issues of note. Continue Reading

Oregon Court of Appeals Reaffirms that Engineer Lien Claimant Must Provide Notice of Right to Lien to Perfect and Foreclose Lien

Posted in Lien Rights in Oregon, Oregon Court of Appeals

The Oregon Court of Appeals recently issued a decision confirming the pre-lien notice requirements necessary to perfect a lien in Oregon. The case, known as Multi/Tech Engineering Services, Inc. v. Innovative Design & Construction, LLC, 274 Or App 389 (2015), discussed whether a lien recorded by Multi/Tech for engineering services could be foreclosed where Multi/Tech may have failed to provide the project owner a notice of right to lien.

The case involved the development and construction of a commercial project in Salem owned by Adler Commercial Properties (ACP). The project owner retained the services of Innovative and Gene Pfeifer to assist in the development of the project, who in turn hired Multi/Tech to provide various engineering services. Following Innovative’s and Pfeifer’s failure to pay Multi/Tech’s final invoice, Multi/Tech recorded a lien identifying ACP (and other related entities) as the project owners and Innovative and Pfeifer as the lien debtors. Thereafter, the trial court granted a judgment of lien foreclosure to Multi/Tech. ACP, among others, appealed asserting that Multi/Tech failed to properly perfect its lien.

The Court of Appeals confirmed that under ORS 87.010(5) professionals providing engineering services, such as Multi/Tech, were generally authorized to lien the project for which such services were supplied. The Court went on further, however, to emphasize that “[i]n order to perfect one of the construction liens authorized by ORS 87.010, including a lien under ORS 87.010(5), a person who is entitled to a lien ordinarily must provide the owner of the property subject to the lien with notice of the person’s right to a lien.” Citing ORS 87.021(3)(a), the Court cautioned that “[f]ailure to provide the notice – when notice is required – means that the lien is not perfected and is not valid.” Continue Reading