Construction disputes can be costly, and most of them arise from misunderstandings or errors and omissions in contracts.
These disputes not only increase the overall cost of a construction project, but they can also lead to costly legal actions, whether or not they end up in court.
Other disputes can arise once a project is completed over quality, defects, or product warranties.
If you anticipate or are confronted with any type of a construction dispute — as a property owner, contractor, engineer, architect, subcontractor, or supplier — and your project is located in the Southern California counties of Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, or San Diego, contact me — J. Eric LeVine, ESQ. — at my office in Laguna Hills. I have four-plus decades of experience in resolving disputes through negotiation, mediation, and if necessary, arbitration and litigation.
Disputes during and after construction can arise from a number of factors, but the most common type of dispute is over the contract (or contracts between contractor and subcontractors) and what the terms are deemed to be by the parties involved. If the terms are not completely clear, as well as mutually discussed and agreed upon before construction begins, disputes can arise during construction over matters such as:
If the construction contract is vague or unclear as to exactly what the contractor is going to do and when it will be completed, it is frequently a source of disputes.
If the contractor substitutes inferior materials for the materials specified in the contract, the project owner may find that unacceptable and take action.
A contract should specify deadlines, and if a contractor or subcontractor fails to meet them, the owner or developer may seek legal action.
If substandard materials are used, or deadlines are not met, the owner or developer may withhold payment, leading to legal claims by the affected contractor or subcontractor. The owner or developer may delay or withhold payment even when the work is completed satisfactorily. It may be necessary to record a mechanics lien.
After the construction project has been completed and paid for, disputes can still arise over construction quality, defects, and malfunctioning equipment used in the building.
Action can be taken in construction disputes under different legal standards, including:
This applies to “mass-produced consumer items” used in construction that are defective and cause injury or damage. You do not need to prove negligence or a breach of duty. Strict liability is further outlined in the California Right to Repair Act, which establishes 45 functionality standards. A violation of any standard constitutes a “strict liability” claim.
When an injury or damage to property occurs because of negligent construction, it can lead to a legal claim. The plaintiff must establish that the defendant (a contractor or another party) failed to live up to professional standards or failed to meet building code requirements. In most cases, this will require expert testimony.
If the contractor fails to live up to the details and standards of the contract (such as materials used or unmet deadlines), the property owner or developer can sue for breach of contract.
Similar to breaches of contract, contracts involving real property often include warranties regarding conditions of the property when finally presented to the buyer. These warranties can be express — written into the contract — or implied. It is important to note that implied warranties can be difficult to prove in court.
If the builder or seller of a building deliberately misrepresents its components and overall quality, this amounts to fraud due to making false statements. When someone sells a property without disclosing known defects, alleging misrepresentation or fraud is often a successful legal strategy.
The general principle of indemnity, which applies to actions and incidents beyond and including construction projects, has been described by the California Supreme Court as “the obligation resting on one party to make good a loss or damage another has incurred.” Indemnity is often invoked in construction lawsuits as it can be used to include subcontractors as well as contractors.
If legal action is sought in a construction dispute, the plaintiff obviously has in mind a certain type of reparation — monetary or otherwise. A contractor suing a developer over nonpayment is obviously seeking payment, plus any possible penalties. A homeowner suing over a construction defect will no doubt demand that the defect is corrected, and if injuries or damages occurred, that those be compensated for as well.
In cases involving contractor breaches, the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions state that the “basic measure of damages is the cost of repair to bring the project into compliance with the contract.” If the cost of repair is deemed unreasonable, then the standard becomes “the diminution in the value of the property because of the defective work.”
Construction disputes don’t have to end up in court. Through mediation and arbitration, the costs involved in a courtroom drama can be avoided, and both parties can walk away satisfied. If these routes prove unworkable, however, then a lawsuit may indeed be the next order of business.
When you’re facing a dispute during a construction project, don’t let it drag out until it becomes nearly impossible to resolve. Bring it to my attention as soon as it arises, and let’s work together on resolving it.
Likewise, if you’re a homeowner who experiences defects and quality issues in your new residence, call me as soon as possible. I will help you exercise your full rights to get matters fixed or you compensated for any loss of value in your home.
I’m J. Eric LeVine, ESQ., a sole practitioner located in Laguna Hills, California I have helped individuals and businesses resolve disputes throughout my legal career. I am ready to help you pursue a satisfying resolution to your construction dispute. Contact me to request a free initial consultation if you’re in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, or San Diego County.