Ten years ago, you had the roof on your office building replaced. Your roofer had assured you that the new membrane would be waterproof, wouldn’t crack and would be well-suited for your building over the long-haul. He even backed up these representations with a document stating that both the membrane and his workmanship were “fully warranted for 20 years.”
The work was substantially complete on September 15, 2003, and until recently, the new membrane hadn’t given you any problems. After storms passed through your neck-of-the-woods last week, however, your “new” roof leaked. Big Time.
Turns out you’re going to need to replace your roof immediately, ten years earlier than expected. Adding insult to injury, interior spaces were damaged, including common areas and rented space, and the operations of some of your tenants were disrupted. You suspect they might seek rent abatement, maybe more. Good thing you kept that 20-year warranty in a safe place, right?
Kind of. Under a recent North Carolina appellate decision, you might be able to compel the roofer to replace the roof, but you’re not likely to succeed in recovering any monetary damages from him.
Image by eschipul via Creative Commons license.
In recent years, a majority of states have ruled that a contractor can be found liable for personal injuries suffered by third parties from accidents occurring after the contractor’s work is completed and accepted.
Not North Carolina.
In a decision handed down on August 7, 2012, the N.C. Court of Appeals (“COA”) once again embraced the “completed and accepted work doctrine,” which provides that an independent contractor is not liable for injuries to third parties occurring after the contractor’s work is completed and accepted. The doctrine has been the “law of the land” in the Old North State since 1946, and our appellate courts show no signs of reversing course.
This post explores the COA’s decision in Lamb v. D.S. Duggins Welding, Inc., considers the merits and drawbacks of the completed and accepted work doctrine and concludes with some observations about the rule’s exceptions and limitations.
As set forth in the attached order, The Supreme Court of the United States will NOT review the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court upholding legislation by the Minnesota state legislature that revives long-extinguished design defect liability arising from the 2007 collapse of a portion of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis.Prior to the collapse, Minnesota’s “statute of repose” (a statute that limits the time during which an action can arise) for design defects was 15 years. Despite the fact that the design work for the bridge in question was performed in the mid-1960’s, and despite the fact that the designer of record — Sverdup & Parcel and Associates, Inc. — had been bought out by Jacobs Engineering in 1999, the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari means that Minnesota is now free to pursue $37 million in indemnity claims against Jacobs Engineering that had expired under the 15-year statute no later than the early 1980’s.
This is a scary outcome for participants in the construction industry, with potential insurance, contract drafting and document retention repercussions. I’ll be back in the days ahead with additional analysis. In the interim, you can read AGC’s brief in favor of review here, which sets forth quite eloquently the reasons why the Supreme Court should have reviewed and reversed the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision.
UPDATE (5/29/12 1:38 p.m.): Coverage from Engineering News & Record can be found here.