Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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Gentek Building Products, Inc. appealed after a jury awarded Richard and Angela Palmer damages of $10,791, plus interest. Gentek also appealed an order awarding attorney fees of $80,379 to the Palmers, and taxation of costs and disbursements. In 2003, the Palmers purchased and installed “Driftwood” steel siding from Gentek on their home in Williston. Gentek provided a lifetime limited warranty for the siding. In September 2011, the paint began to peel on the siding installed on the south side of the home. In January 2012, the Palmers submitted a warranty claim to Gentek. Gentek offered the Palmers the option of either a cash settlement or replacement with a substitute siding under the warranty, since Gentek had discontinued producing the type of siding originally installed. While the Palmers opted to have their siding replaced with a substitute, Gentek had difficulty finding a contractor willing to perform the warranty work due to the oil boom in the area. Thousands of others also experienced delaminated pain on their siding and filed warranty claims with Gentek, resulting in a class action lawsuit filed in federal district court in Ohio. The federal district court entered a final order and judgment approving a class action settlement. In 2014, the Palmers filed this suit against Gentek, alleging breach of warranty by failing to replace the defective siding. Gentek defended by arguing the Palmers were bound by the federal court's final class action settlement. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the North Dakota district court did not err in holding the Palmers were not bound by the federal district court’s final order and judgment approving a class action settlement. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that the court erred in its award of attorney fees and in not ruling on Gentek’s objection to costs and disbursements. The order awarding attorney fees and taxation of costs and disbursements was reversed, however, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Palmer, et al. v. Gentek Building Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted a certified question of South Carolina law from the federal district court, which stemmed from the construction of a home near Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Mark Lawrence constructed his home using structural insulated panels manufactured by General Panel Corporation. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a structural alternative to traditional wood-frame construction. Lawrence claims faulty installation of the General Panel SIPs used in constructing his home allowed water intrusion, which in turn caused the panels to rot, damaging the structural integrity of his home. He brought a claim in federal district court alleging General Panel was liable for providing defective installation instructions to the subcontractor installing the SIPs. General Panel filed a motion for summary judgment, based on a South Carolina statute of repose: 15-3-640. The statute provided "No actions to recover damages based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property may be brought more than eight years after substantial completion of the improvement." General Panel's relief depended on the date of "substantial completion." The subcontractor completed the installation of the SIPs in Lawrence's home by March 2007. The home was not finished, however, until over a year later. Charleston County issued a certificate of occupancy on December 10, 2008. Lawrence filed his lawsuit against General Panel on December 8, 2016, more than eight years after installation of the SIPs, but less than eight years after the certificate of occupancy was issued. The federal district court asked whether South Carolina Act 27 of 2005 amended section 15-3- 640 (Supp. 2018) so that the date of "substantial completion of the improvement" is measured from the date of the certificate of occupancy (unless the parties establish a different date by written agreement), thereby superseding the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Ocean Winds Corp. of Johns Island v. Lane, 556 S.E.2d 377 (2001). The Supreme Court responded in the negative: the 2005 amendments did not supersede Ocean Winds. View "Lawrence v. General Panel Corp." on Justia Law

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In 1999, homeowners Renaul and Karen Abel contracted with Gilliam Construction Company, Inc. for the construction of a house in an upscale Landrum subdivision. In constructing the house, Gilliam used windows manufactured by Eagle & Taylor Company d/b/a Eagle Window & Door, Inc. (Eagle & Taylor). Sometime after the home was completed, the Abels discovered damage from water intrusion around the windows. The Abels brought suit against Gilliam for the alleged defects and settled with Gilliam and its insurer, Nationwide Mutual, for $210,000. Nationwide and Gilliam (collectively Respondents) then initiated this contribution action seeking repayment of the settlement proceeds from several defendants, including Eagle, alleging it was liable for the obligations of Eagle & Taylor. The narrow question presented by this case on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether Eagle Window & Door, Inc. was subject to successor liability for the defective windows manufactured by a company who later sold its assets to Eagle in a bankruptcy sale. The Court determined answering that question required a revisit the Court's holding in Simmons v. Mark Lift Industries, Inc., 622 S.E.2d 213 (2005) and for clarification of the doctrine of successor liability in South Carolina. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's holding that Eagle is the "mere continuation" of the entity. The Supreme Court reversed because both the trial court and court of appeals incorrectly applied the test for successor liability. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance v. Eagle Window & Door" on Justia Law

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Schaefer’s employer, Brand Energy, was erecting scaffolding at a Dynegy power plant. Brand had complete control over the scaffold construction. Brand acquired the scaffold components from Universal, but Dynegy paid for the scaffolding and owned it. Brand workers had difficulties with the Universal components because faulty components would not readily lock. A bar popped loose and struck Schaefer on the head. Schaefer suffered serious injuries. In addition to bringing a workers’ compensation claim against Brand, Schaefer sued Universal. Because the piece of scaffolding that hit him was lost, he added claims for negligent spoliation of evidence against Brand and Dynegy. Schaefer also alleged construction negligence and failure to warn against Dynegy. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding that without the missing piece, Schaefer could not prove his product liability claims; that Dynegy was not liable for any defects or negligence; and that Schaefer could not prove the spoliation claims because, without proof that the missing piece was defective, it was not possible to prove that its loss caused any damage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, but reversed as to spoliation. Illinois law does not require a plaintiff to prove that he would have won his case but for the spoliation, it requires only that the plaintiff show a “reasonable probability” of success. Schaefer adduced evidence from which a jury could make this finding: the batch of scaffolding had a large number of defective pieces. View "Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding & Equip., LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners were two German limited liability corporations who were sued by a homeowners association for alleged construction defects in plumbing parts. Petitioners moved to dismiss the complaints, arguing that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them because they had no direct connection to Nevada, did not manufacture or distribute the allegedly faulty plumbing parts, and had no responsibility or control over their American subsidiaries such that the subsidiaries’ contacts with Nevada could be imputed to Petitioners. The district court asserted jurisdiction over Petitioners, determining that the companies’ American subsidiaries acted as Petitioners’ agents and concluding that the subsidiaries’ contacts with Nevada could be imputed to Petitioners. Petitioners filed a petition for writ of prohibition challenging the validity of the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction over them. The district court granted the petition, holding that no agency relationship was shown in this case, and accordingly, the district court exceeded its jurisdiction in imputing the subsidiaries’ contacts to Petitioners. View "Viega GmbH v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court" on Justia Law

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Elliot, which provides construction and maintenance services, owns and leases bucket trucks. In 1996, Elliot entered into a lease with TECO, a manufacturer of such trucks, agreeing agreed to hold TECO harmless from liability arising from injuries resulting from use, operation, or transportation of the vehicle or its location or condition. In 2000, Large was injured while operating a truck, which his employer, Elliot, had leased from TECO. Large sued TECO. TECO’s successor in interest (Mobile) filed a third-party complaint against Elliot, seeking defense and indemnification pursuant to the lease. Mobile later settled with Large without Elliot’s participation, leaving the third-party complaint against Elliot as the only outstanding issue. After a change in Virginia law, Mobile again moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted, holding Elliot responsible to defend and indemnify Mobile. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Elliot’s argument that a later invoice superseded the terms of the lease, eliminating Elliot’s duty to defend and indemnify except in the case that Elliot violated obligations under the invoice by failing to either adequately train Large in the use of the truck or to provide him with copies of the truck’s operation and maintenance manuals. View "Large v. Mobile Tool Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claimed that her husband's death was caused by Defendant's negligence in installing or removing asbestos-containing materials and brought product-liability and contractor-negligence claims against Defendant. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding (1) the application or removal of asbestos-containing products or asbestos-insulted equipment by a contractor is an improvement to real property, and (2) thus, the claim had not been brought within the time Indiana law requires for a claim arising from the construction of an improvement to real property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Defendant's work constituted an "improvement to real property," as that phase was commonly understood. View "Gill v. Evansville Sheet Metal Works, Inc." on Justia Law