Construction defects plague many buildings in Florida, leading to lawsuits against developers and contractors. Seasoned developers have tried placing limits on their liability in a variety of ways, including inserting provisions in associations’ governing documents to limit associations’ and owners’ ability to bring a lawsuit against the developer. While developers have been creative in coming up with ways to limit liability exposure, this article focuses on what developers may not include in the governing documents that govern homeowner and condominium associations.

Governing Documents

To form a condominium or homeowners association, among other things, one must record a declaration in the respective county public records. Fla. Stat. § 718.104. “The declaration of condominium, which is the condominium’s ‘constitution,’ creates the condominium and ‘strictly governs the relationships among the condominium unit owners and the condominium association.’” Neuman, 861 So.2d at 496–97 (quoting Woodside Vill. Condo. Ass’n v. Jahren, 806 So.2d 452, 456 (Fla.2002)). The same applies to declarations for a homeowners association.

These declarations are binding documents and contain covenants, conditions, and restrictions for the community. Such covenants, conditions, and restrictions pertain to a range of topics including, but not limited to, whether pets are allowed; where to store garbage cans; regulation of TV antennas; and the operation of home businesses. The developer drafts these declarations and, while ambiguities are construed against the drafters,[1] developers are still given wide latitude in drafting declarations. Further, restrictions which may be found in a declaration of condominium are clothed with a very strong presumption of validity when challenged. See, e.g., Grove Isle Ass’n, Inc. v. Grove Isle Assocs., LLLP, 137 So. 3d 1081, 1091 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2014) (citing Woodside Vill. Condo. Ass’n, 806 So.2d at 457).

Continue Reading Effectiveness of Suit Limitations in Community Associations’ Governing Documents

The Oregon Legislature is currently considering Senate Bill 383, which would revise Oregon’s “certificate of merit” statute, ORS 31.300. The Bill has already passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is now before the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Government Effectiveness. The Bill would add a requirement that a court filing against an architect or engineer include a summary or the conduct complained of, and would narrow who can certify claims against what type of disciplines. A “certificate of merit” law with clear standards and processes is more likely to achieve the goal of limiting actions against design professionals to meritorious claims. SB 383 muddies the waters, and worse, conflicts with Oregon’s Rules of Civil Procedure which lawyers must follow.

“Certificate of merit” statutes in Oregon, and other states, are designed to limit frivolous lawsuits against design professionals by requiring that the attorney filing the lawsuit certify that the attorney has consulted with another design professional who will testify to the standard of care required in the profession, and that the standard of care was breached. Senate Bill 383’s proponents wish to strengthen and clarify the Oregon statute. But Senate Bill 383 does not go far enough, and is not specific enough, to achieve what the Bill’s proponents wish to achieve. Instead, in its current form, it simply invites further litigation and questions. Worse, it conflicts with Oregon’s Rules of Civil Procedure, which attorneys must follow in Oregon. Continue Reading Oregon Bill to Revise “Certificate of Merit” Statute for Lawsuits against Architects and Engineers Should Do More to Clarify Protections

On April 7, 2015, a federal appellate court issued a critical opinion on insurance coverage for construction-defect cases. In Carithers v. Mid-Continent Casualty Company, the Eleventh Circuit held that (1) the duty to defend is triggered unless there is certainty (factual and legal) that no coverage exists; (2) there is coverage under a contractor’s commercial general liability policy for property damage caused by one subcontractor’s work to another subcontractors work; and (3) “rip and tear” costs are covered “property damage.” Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Provides Critical Path to Defense and Indemnity

Please check out my latest post on the Policyholder Report blog regarding a recent Florida decision  – another win for policyholders.  Here is an excerpt:

Last week, a federal district court in Florida reaffirmed the black-letter law in Florida that claims against a general contractor for damage to the completed project resulting from the defective work of a subcontractor constitutes “property damage” under a Commercial General Liability, or “CGL,” policy. The order also clarifies how “other insurance” clauses are construed when insurers offer competing arguments about who has to pay first — a common dispute in multiparty, multipolicy cases.

In Pavarini Construction Co. v. ACE American Ins. Co. (Feb. 25, 2015), Pavarini, the insured, was the general contractor for a 63-floor, mixed-use condominium tower. As is customary in projects of this size, Pavarini hired several subcontractors to perform the work. The steel subcontractor’s deficient work at issue in this case involved missing and misplaced reinforcing steel in the concrete masonry unit. This deficient work caused excess movement in the building, resulting in damage to exterior stucco, water intrusion in the penthouse enclosure, and cracking in the concrete columns, beams, and shear walls.  Read more.

Statutes of limitation cut off rights to bring a lawsuit after a designated time period, regardless of the strength of your case or how much you’ve been injured. The length of these time periods can vary by the type of claim being brought, and the starting date can vary also. The “discovery rule” – which delays the starting point for periods of limitation until the injured party discovers the cause of action – has the greatest potential impact on this starting date. Oregon law has been unstable regarding application of the discovery rule to claims for breach of contract. Although we appear to be reaching a point of greater certainty on this issue, more refinement may yet be required.

Oregon’s Discovery Rule Generally

Discovery rules in Oregon arise Continue Reading Mockeries and Latent Breaches: Reflections on Oregon’s Discovery Rule

Jacob Zahniser Presents “Top 10 Rules of Risk Management” and Serves on Legal Panel

Home Builders Association of Metro Portland | Contractor Business Management Series – Session I

2/27/2015
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Lake Oswego, Oregon

The all-new Contractor Business Management Series consists of three sessions focused on core areas of business management to help sharpen your skills. Whether you’re thinking of starting a business or are a newer owner and manager these courses will improve your knowledge and refresh your memory. The Contractor Business Management Series is specifically tailored for the construction industry and is perfect for builders, remodelers and subcontractors who own, manage, or hope to own in the future.

Topics included in this course:

Top 10 Rules of Risk Management – Jacob Zahniser, Ball Janik LLP

Understand how your day-to-day business practices can help you avoid litigation
Learn how to work with your business partners, vendors, and subcontractors to set expectations
Understand how to identify and mitigate risks early in your projects

Click here to register

Continue Reading “Top 10 Rules of Risk Management” at the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland

We spend a lot of effort on this blog talking about the time deadlines for property owners to sue contractors and design professionals for negligence.  There are two reasons for this:  first, the law on this is rapidly evolving in Oregon.  Second, it is of the utmost importance to contractors, design professionals, and property owners because there are very few absolute defenses to a claim for negligent construction besides the timing of claims.  Also, since many property owners rightfully loathe to dive into a lawsuit, they may delay filing until absolutely necessary.

The news keeps coming.  At the end of October, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided Riverview Condominium Association v. Cypress Ventures, Inc., et al., Case No A150586 (October 29, 2014).  There, the defendants developed testimony and documents evidencing that various types of water leaks had been affecting the property for several years.  The case discusses the “statute of repose” (the drop-dead deadline date for bringing any claims) as well as the “statute of limitations” (the time limit on bringing various claims). Continue Reading Oregon Court of Appeals holds cutoff time for negligent construction claims could be six years from discovery of a claim.

The following is a report from my blog post on The Policyholder Report on November 20, 2014.

The Seventh Circuit just released an opinion in Strauss v. Chubb Indemnity Insurance on November 18, 2014, upholding coverage for insureds who discovered the presence of long-term water damage five years after their insurance policies had expired, and likely well after the statute of limitations passed for a construction-defect action. With this opinion, the Seventh Circuit joins with other jurisdictions that have determined there is coverage for long-term latent defects that go undiscovered for years.

The insureds constructed a new home in Wisconsin that was completed in 1994. They moved in and purchased insurance with various insurers through 2005. But unknown to the insureds, the defective construction in 1994 had been allowing water to infiltrate their home. These damages went undiscovered until 2010, five years after the last insurance policy had expired and likely beyond the time allowed to file a lawsuit against the negligent contractor. The insurers denied coverage, arguing that there was no coverage for the water damage because it didn’t “manifest” until 2010 and a “manifestation trigger” applies to all first-party property insurance claims. Not only is that an incorrect statement of the language of the policies, it is also a blatant misstatement of the law. The district court rejected the insurers’ arguments. So did the Seventh Circuit. Continue Reading Past the Statute of Limitations for a Construction-Defect Case? Try Looking at Your First-Party Property Policy for Coverage.

The Oregon Court of Appeals recently issued a surprising decision regarding the ultimate timeline to file a construction defect claim involving a “spec home.” (A “spec home” is a house which a builder or developer constructs not for a specific owner but on speculation that the home will sell to the general public upon completion.)  In Shell v The Schollander Companies, Inc. (September 24, 2014), the Court of Appeals decided that ORS 12.115, as opposed to ORS 12.135, supplies the appropriate ten-year statute of repose for an owner seeking a negligent construction claim where the owner does not have a traditional “construction contract” with the builder.  The plaintiff in Shell was the original owner of the home.  She purchased the property midway through construction from the original developer/builder using a real estate sales agreement to complete the transaction. Continue Reading And Then There Were Two: The Oregon Ct. of Appeals Finds There Are Two Possible Statutes of Repose for Negligent Construction Claims

Our colleagues at The Policyholder Report  note on a recent decision of whether construction defects present a single or multiple “occurrence” for insurance coverage purposes. In Chartis Specialty Ins. Co. v. Am. Contractors Ins. Co. (Aug. 12, 2014), Judge King of the federal district court in Oregon ruled that allegations of “deficiently managed construction” constituted a single occurrence for coverage purposes. Whether defective construction, development, administration and management give rise to one or more “occurrences” has profound consequences for both insurers and their insureds with regard to policy limits in play and deductibles/self-insurance retention amounts.  Read it here.