Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around injury suffered by a swimmer, Dr. Jennifer Pennington, who collided with the corner of a swimming-pool wall at a health and fitness center owned and operated by Memorial Hospital of South Bend, doing business as Beacon Health and Fitness. The design and construction of the swimming pool was carried out by Spear Corporation and Panzica Building Corporation. The Penningtons filed a suit against Beacon, Spear, and Panzica, alleging negligent design, failure to warn, negligent maintenance and operation, negligent construction, and deprivation of companionship due to the injury. The trial court granted summary judgment to Panzica and Spear on all counts and to Beacon on some counts, but denied summary judgment to Beacon on the count of negligent maintenance and operation and failure to provide adequate warnings and instructions. The Indiana Supreme Court held that Beacon was not entitled to summary judgment on any count, except as to the single issue of the level of the water within Count III. The court affirmed summary judgment for Spear and Panzica, stating that the Penningtons failed to provide admissible evidence regarding Spear or Panzica's breach of their professional duty of care. However, the court found that there were issues of fact regarding Beacon's role in the pool’s design and its maintenance and operation that required a trial. View "Pennington v. Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, an accident occurred at a construction site which resulted in bodily injuries to Gaylon Cruse and Mark Duckworth. During the installation of roof trusses, a power crane operated by Douglas Forrest was prematurely released, causing a truss to fall and collapse onto other trusses, injuring Cruse and Duckworth. Southern Truss, the owner of the truck to which the crane was attached, had two insurance policies - a commercial auto policy from Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company (Artisan) and a commercial general liability policy from The Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington). Both insurance companies denied a duty to defend in the underlying lawsuit initiated by Cruse and Duckworth.Artisan filed a suit in federal court seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend under its auto policy due to an operations exclusion clause and that Burlington owed a duty to defend. The district court denied both companies' motions for judgment, finding an ambiguity in Artisan's policy that should be construed in favor of the insured and that Burlington had a duty to defend some claims not covered by Artisan's policy. Both Artisan and Burlington appealed.The appeals court, applying Illinois law and conducting a de novo review, found no ambiguity in Artisan's policy. The court concluded that the operations exclusion applied because the injuries arose from the operation of the crane attached to the truck, whose primary purpose was to provide mobility to the crane. As such, Artisan had no duty to defend. Since Artisan had no duty to defend, the court determined that Burlington did have a duty to defend under its policy. Thus, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court. View "Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company v. Burlington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware upheld a lower court's decision regarding a dispute between the Salt Meadows Homeowners Association (Salt Meadows) and Zonko Builders, Inc. (Zonko). Salt Meadows accused Zonko of faulty construction leading to water damage in the condominium complex built by Zonko. The Superior Court found Zonko liable but left the question of damages to a jury, which awarded Salt Meadows $11.3 million in general damages and $1.6 million for specific repair costs. However, the Superior Court later reduced the general damage award to $8.3 million, citing unsupported, speculative, and excessive damage claims. The court also granted Zonko's motion for judgment as a matter of law related to the specific repair costs, finding that Salt Meadows expanded its claims without sufficient evidence. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's decision, agreeing that Salt Meadows' damage claims were speculative and unsupported. The court also agreed with the lower court's calculation of pre-judgment interest from the date the damages were discovered, not from the date of Zonko's negligent construction. The court further affirmed the calculation of post-judgment interest from the date of the verdict, as agreed upon by both parties. View "Salt Meadows Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Zonko Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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In March 2015, Jere Hinman hired BrightView Landscape Development, Inc., to design and construct a pool at her residence. BrightView subcontracted with Georgia Gunite and Pool Company, Inc., to install plumbing and spray shotcrete for the pool shell. In November 2015, Hinman contacted BrightView after receiving an unusually high water bill and discovered that the pool was leaking water due to a missing part that was not included in Georgia Gunite’s scope of work. BrightView and Georgia Gunite worked together to address the issue in April 2016. In 2018, Hinman sued BrightView for defective construction of the pool, and BrightView filed a third-party complaint against Georgia Gunite, seeking indemnification based on the subcontractor agreement. Georgia Gunite moved for summary judgment, arguing that BrightView's claim was barred by Tennessee's four-year statute of repose for actions alleging defective improvements to real estate.The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, which granted summary judgment in favor of Georgia Gunite. The court held that, although BrightView's indemnification claim against Georgia Gunite was contractual in nature, it fell within the scope of Tennessee's statute of repose for deficient construction of an improvement to real property because, at its core, it sought to recover damages arising from such deficient construction. The court rejected BrightView's argument that the statute of repose only applies to tort actions. The court also rejected BrightView's argument that the application of the statute of repose in this case would extinguish its claim before it even accrued, noting that this argument is directed at the nature of a statute of repose. The court further held that the repose statute is not mutually exclusive with statutes of limitation. Thus, BrightView's claim against Georgia Gunite was barred because it was not brought within four years after substantial completion of the pool construction. View "Hinman v. ValleyCrest Landscaping Dev." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District was asked to determine two key issues. The first issue pertained to whether K&S Staffing Solutions, Inc., a staffing company, could be considered a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law. The second issue was whether the payment bonds issued for two state projects were subject to the mechanics’ lien law’s requirements. The staffing company had been contracted by a subcontractor, Titan DVBE Inc., to fulfill its staffing needs for two road maintenance projects awarded by California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to VSS International, Inc. (VSSI). When Titan failed to pay K&S all the amounts owed for the projects, K&S sued VSSI and the Western Surety Company, which had issued payment bonds for the projects. K&S argued that it was a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law and was therefore entitled to recover against the payment bonds. The trial court disagreed, finding that K&S was not a “laborer” as it failed to show it was the employer of the laborers. On appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, interpreting the term “laborer” as defined in the mechanics’ lien law to mean “a person who, acting as an employee, performs labor upon, or bestows skill or other necessary services on, a work of improvement.” The court concluded that K&S was not a “laborer” as it was not acting as an employee in any capacity. The court also affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney fees to the defendants under a provision in the mechanics’ lien law. Although K&S argued that this provision was inapplicable because the payment bonds for the projects were not “payment bonds” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law, the court rejected this argument. The court concluded that the general requirements of the mechanics’ lien law for payment bonds applied both to state projects that required a bond under the Public Contract Code and other “public entity” projects that required a bond under the mechanics’ lien law. View "K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co." on Justia Law

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In the case before the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Eight, the plaintiff, a construction company, sued the defendant, a homeowner, for defamation after the homeowner posted critical comments about the company online. The homeowner had hired the construction company to repair her home after it was damaged by a fallen tree. Dissatisfied with the work, the homeowner reported the company to the Contractors State License Board and began posting negative reviews of the company on her blog and Yelp. In response to the defamation lawsuit, the homeowner filed a special motion to strike, arguing that her comments were protected by the litigation privilege. The trial court denied the motion, and the homeowner appealed.The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the homeowner's online posts were not covered by the litigation privilege. The court explained that the litigation privilege applies only to communications made in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings that have some connection to the litigation. The homeowner's posts were public criticisms of the construction company, some of which did not even mention the Contractors State License Board. Therefore, the court found that the posts were akin to press releases and lacked the necessary connection to the proceedings before the board. The court also rejected the homeowner's arguments that the construction company failed to plead that her statements were unprivileged, that her statements were true, and that her statements were merely her opinions. View "Paglia & Associates Construction v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit considered an appeal by Colony Insurance Company against First Mercury Insurance Company related to a settlement agreement for an underlying negligence case. Both companies had consecutively insured DL Phillips Construction, Inc. (DL Phillips) under commercial general liability insurance policies. After the settlement, Colony sued First Mercury, arguing that First Mercury needed to reimburse Colony for the full amount of its settlement contribution, as it contended that First Mercury's policies covered all damages at issue. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of First Mercury, prompting Colony's appeal.In the underlying negligence case, DL Phillips was hired to replace the roof of an outpatient clinic in Texas. Shortly after completion, the roof began leaking, causing damage over several months. The clinic's owner sued DL Phillips for various claims, including breach of contract and negligence. A verdict was entered against DL Phillips for over $3.7 million. Both Colony and First Mercury contributed to a settlement agreement, and then Colony sued First Mercury, arguing it was responsible for all the property damage at issue.The appellate court held that under the plain language of First Mercury's policies and relevant case law, First Mercury was only liable for damages that occurred during its policy period, not all damages resulting from the initial roof defect. The court also found that Colony failed to present sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact about whether there was an unfair allocation of damages, which would be necessary for Colony's contribution and subrogation claims. As such, the court affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of First Mercury and denied summary judgment for Colony. View "Colony Insurance Company v. First Mercury Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho was required to interpret aspects of Idaho’s mechanic’s lien statutes. Datum Construction, LLC, was the general contractor for a commercial construction project, and subcontracted part of the work to Elmore Welding and Steel, who rented equipment from RE Investment Co., LLC, dba Pro Rentals & Sales. Elmore Welding and Steel failed to pay Pro Rentals for the equipment rental, resulting in Pro Rentals filing a mechanic's lien. Datum then purchased a bond and petitioned the district court to release the lien. Pro Rentals did not oppose this petition and the district court released the lien. Datum argued that Pro Rentals had failed to begin proceedings to enforce its claim of lien within six months. The district court granted Datum’s motion to release the bond. Pro Rentals appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho ruled in favor of Pro Rentals, determining that the district court had erred in applying a six-month statute of limitations from the mechanic’s lien statutes to a bond action. The court held that the bond replaced the lien, and the six-month period to enforce a lien was not applicable once the lien was released. The court determined that the appropriate statute of limitations for an action against the bond was two years under Idaho Code section 5-219. Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s decision to release the bond. View "Datum Construction, LLC v. Re Investment Co." on Justia Law

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In February 2020, Shift Services, LLC (Shift) was contracted by Ames Savage Water Solutions, LLC (Ames) to repair a liner inside a water tank operated by Ames. The agreement was for a fixed price of $39,500.00, which included all labor, material, and travel time. When Shift began the work, they found a more significant amount of ice in the tank than initially observed. Shift communicated with Ames about the issue and decided to subcontract a hot oil truck company to melt the ice. Upon completion of the project, Ames paid the contracted amount but refused to pay an additional $31,705.00 bill from Shift related to the ice removal. Shift claimed that the contract was modified to include these additional costs, which Ames had allegedly approved. The district court dismissed Shift's breach of contract claim and terminated the construction lien it had placed on the property, finding that there was a lack of mutual assent to modify the contract.The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Shift did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate mutual assent for the modification of the original contract. The court pointed out that Shift had not disclosed to Ames that they intended to add an additional charge for the increased cost associated with the ice removal, nor did they discuss the details of the subcontractor, the equipment to be used, or the estimated number of hours that the removal would take. In conclusion, the court found no error in the district court's finding of a lack of mutual assent to modify the contract, thereby confirming that Ames did not breach the contract. View "Shift Services v. Ames Savage Water Solutions" on Justia Law

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In this case, Nova Group/Tutor-Saliba (“NTS”) was awarded a construction contract by the United States Department of the Navy to build a new aircraft carrier maintenance pier at a naval base. The contract required NTS to demolish an old pier, design and build a replacement pier, and construct a new structure known as the Mole Quaywall, which would be designed by the government. During construction, NTS encountered unexpected subsurface soil conditions that complicated and increased the cost of the project. NTS sought additional compensation from the government alleging differing site conditions.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States Court of Federal Claims which had denied NTS's claim for additional compensation. The Court of Federal Claims found that NTS had not established a Type I differing site condition because the contract documents disclosed that NTS would encounter unpredictable subsurface conditions and possible obstructions. It also found that NTS had failed to prove a Type II differing site condition, as it had not demonstrated that any of the potential causes for hard driving were unknown or unusual in the region or materially different from comparable work. The Court of Appeals agreed with these findings and also ruled that the parol evidence rule had not been violated as NTS claimed. The Court of Appeals found that the parol evidence rule does not prevent a party from presenting evidence that a recital of fact in an integrated agreement may be untrue, and the challenged evidence was not introduced to modify any term of the contract. Therefore, the appeal by NTS was denied and the decision of the Court of Federal Claims was affirmed. View "NOVA GROUP/TUTOR-SALIBA v. US " on Justia Law