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    Fairfield, CT 06824

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    Construction Expert Witness News and Information
    For Fairfield Connecticut


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    Illinois Supreme Court Limits Reach of Implied Warranty Claims Against Contractors

    April 10, 2019 —
    In a recent decision, the Illinois Supreme Court held that a purchaser of a newly constructed home could not assert a claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability against a subcontractor where the subcontractor had no contractual relationship with the purchaser. Sienna Court Condo. Ass’n v. Champion Aluminum Corp., 2018 IL 122022, ¶ 1. The decision overruled Minton v. The Richards Group of Chicago, which held that a purchaser who “has no recourse to the builder-vendor and has sustained loss due to the faulty and latent defect in their new home caused by the subcontractor” could assert a claim of a breach of the warranty of habitability against the subcontractor. 116 Ill. App. 3d 852, 855 (1983). In Sienna Court Condo. Ass’n, the plaintiff alleged that the condo building had several latent defects which made individual units and common areas unfit for habitation. 2008 IL 122022 at ¶ 3. The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that privity should not be a factor in determining whether a claim for a breach of the warranty of habitability can be asserted. Id. at ¶ 19. The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that claims for a breach warranty of habitability should not be governed by contract law but should instead be governed by tort law analogous to application of strict liability. Id. The Court reasoned that the economic loss rule, as articulated in Moorman Manufacturing Co. v. National Tank Co., 91 Ill. 2d 69, 91 (1982), refuted the plaintiff’s argument that the implied warranty of habitability should be covered by tort law. 2008 IL 122022 at ¶ 20. Under the economic loss rule, a plaintiff “cannot recover for solely economic loss under the tort theories of strict liability, negligence, and innocent misrepresentation.” National Tank Co., 91 Ill. 2d at 91. The Court explained that the rule prevented plaintiffs from turning a contractual claim into a tort claim. 2008 IL 122022 at ¶ 21. The Court further noted that contractual privity is required for a claim of economic loss, and an economic loss claim is not limited to strict liability claims. Id. Because the plaintiff’s claim was solely for an economic loss, it was a contractual claim in nature; therefore, the Court concluded that “the implied warranty of habitability cannot be characterized as a tort.” Id. at ¶ 22. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Thomas Cronin, Gordon & Rees Scully Mansukhani
    Mr. Cronin may be contacted at tcronin@grsm.com

    EPA Issues Interpretive Statement on Application of NPDES Permit System to Releases of Pollutants to Groundwater

    May 27, 2019 —
    On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in a development of interest to practically anyone who operates a plant or business, EPA published its Interpretive Statement in the Federal Register. (See 84 FR 16810 (April 23, 2019).) After considering the thousands of comments it received in response to a February 20, 2018, Federal Register notice, EPA has concluded that “the Clean Water Act (CWA) is best read as excluding all releases of pollutants from a point source to groundwater from a point source from NPDES program coverage, regardless of a hydrological connection between the groundwater and jurisdictional surface water.” Acknowledging that its past public statements have not been especially consistent or unambiguous on this important matter, EPA states that this interpretation “is the best, if not the only reading of the CWA, is more consistent with Congress’ intent than other interpretations of the Act, and best addresses the question of NPDES permit program applicability for pollutant releases to groundwater within the authority of the CWA.” Indeed, the absence of “a dedicated statement on the best reading of the CWA has generated confusion in the courts, and uncertainly for EPA regional offices and states implementing the NPDES program, regulated entities, and the public.” The recent and contrary interpretations of this issue by the Ninth Circuit (Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, 886 F.3d 737) and the Fourth Circuit (Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, LP, 887 F.3d 637) will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will now have the benefit of the agency’s official position. In addition, EPA discloses that it will be soliciting additional public “input” on how it can best provide the regulated community with “further clarity and regulatory certainly”; these comments will be due within 45 days (June 7, 2019). Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Anthony B. Cavender, Pillsbury
    Mr. Cavender may be contacted at anthony.cavender@pillsburylaw.com

    N.J. Appellate Court Confirms that AIA Construction Contract Bars Insurer's Subrogation Claim

    September 10, 2019 —
    On April 4, 2019, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court confirmed that the waiver of subrogation provision in a commonly used form construction contract, American Institute of Architects (AIA) form A201 — 2007 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, precluded an insurer’s claims against a subcontractor. In Ace American Ins. Co. v. American Medical Plumbing, Inc., the court considered Ace American Insurance Company’s (Ace) subrogation claim against a plumbing subcontractor who was allegedly responsible for a water main leak that caused approximately $1.2 million in damages to Ace’s insured, Equinox Development Corporation (Equinox). In March 2012, Equinox entered into a contract with Grace Construction Management Company, LLC (Grace) to build the “core and shell” of a new health club. Equinox and Grace used AIA form A201 for their contract. Grace then hired American Medical Plumbing, Inc. (American) as a plumbing subcontractor for the project. In April 2013, the water main failed, flooding the health club. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C.
    Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C. may be contacted at coverage@sdvlaw.com

    Construction in Indian Country – What You Need To Know About Sovereign Immunity

    July 22, 2019 —
    There are many legal issues to consider when bidding on and building projects in American Indian Country. Which labor and employment laws apply? Are there contracting or hiring preferences that apply? Do the Prompt Pay Act and other state laws apply? Can I bring a lawsuit to enforce the contract and, if so, where would I file suit? This article addresses the final question, which is often the most important question when contracting with a tribal entity. Many of the construction projects in American Indian Country are with tribes or entities wholly owned or by a tribe, such as housing authorities, casinos, hospitals, schools or other economic enterprises. Like the state and federal government, tribes (and their tribally—owned enterprises) enjoy sovereign immunity from any lawsuit, meaning they cannot be sued unless the tribe expressly agrees to waive its sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity poses a unique issue for contractors that does not typically arise in other projects, but it need not be a deterrent to doing business with tribes. It is usually in the best interest of both the contractor and tribe to negotiate an acceptable waiver of sovereign immunity. Absent such a waiver, the tribe or tribal entity cannot be sued and the resulting forfeiture of remedies can be devastating for the contractor. To waive sovereign immunity, the tribe must make it clear in the contract that it can be sued in a specific jurisdiction. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Citizen Band Potawatomi tribe of Okla., 498 U.S. 505, 509 (1991). It does not matter whether the tribe is operating on or off its lands—if there is no express contractual waiver of sovereign immunity, a contractor will have no recourse in the event of non-payment or other breach of contract. See Kiowa tribe of Okla. v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., 523 U.S. 751, 118 S.Ct. 1700, 140 L.Ed.2d 981 (1998). Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Edward J. Hermes, Snell & Wilmer
    Mr. Hermes may be contacted at ehermes@swlaw.com

    Seeking Better Peer Reviews After the FIU Bridge Collapse

    September 16, 2019 —
    On the surface, it seemed like an outrageous defensive move following a painful tragedy. Louis Berger Group has refused requests from the Dept. of Labor to hand over emails with FIGG Bridge Engineers about its peer review of the ill-fated Florida International University pedestrian bridge. The structure collapsed on March 15, 2018, killing six people and injuring several others. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Engineering News-Record
    ENR may be contacted at ENR.com@bnpmedia.com

    Arizona Purchaser Dwelling Actions Are Subject to a New Construction

    September 04, 2019 —
    Arizona recently amended its Purchaser Dwelling Action statute to, among other things, involve all contractors in the process, establish the parties’ burdens of proof, add an attorney fees provision, establish procedural requirements and limit a subcontractor’s indemnity exposure. The governor signed the bill—2019 Ariz. SB 1271—on April 10, 2019, and the changes go into effect and apply, retroactively “to from and after June 30, 2019.” The following discussion details some of the changes to the law. Notice to Contractors and Proportional Liability Under the revised law, a “Seller” who receives notice of a Purchaser Dwelling Action (PDA) from a residential dwelling purchaser pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-1363* has to promptly forward the notice to all construction professionals—i.e. architects, contractors, subcontractors, etc., as defined in A.R.S. § 12-1361(5)—that the Seller reasonably believes are responsible for an alleged construction defect. A.R.S. § 12-1363(A). Sellers can deliver the notice by electronic means. Once construction professionals are placed on notice, they have the same right to inspect, test and repair the property as the Seller originally placed on notice. A.R.S. § 12-1362(B), (C). To the extent that the matter ultimately goes to suit, A.R.S. § 12-1632(D) dictates that, subject to Arizona Rules of Court, construction professionals “shall be joined as third-party defendants.” To establish liability, the purchaser has the burden of proving the existence of a construction defect and the amount of damages. Thereafter, the trier of fact determines each defendant’s or third-party defendant’s relative degree of fault and allocates the pro rata share of liability to each based on their relative degree of fault. However, the seller, not the purchaser, has the burden of proving the pro rata share of liability for any third-party defendant. A.R.S. § 12-1632(D). Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of William L. Doerler, White and Williams LLP
    Mr. Doerler may be contacted at doerlerw@whiteandwilliams.com

    Court Slams the Privette Door on Independent Contractor’s Bodily Injury Claim

    May 06, 2019 —
    In Johnson v. The Raytheon Company, Inc., Case No. B281411 (2019) WL 1090217, plaintiff Laurence Johnson (Johnson) was a maintenance engineer employed by an independent contractor that provided control room staff to defendant Raytheon Company, Inc. (“Raytheon”). Johnson was monitoring the computers in the control room when he received low water level alarms pertaining to the water cooling towers. Johnson went to the cooling tower wall in order to look over the wall and verify the water level. Johnson saw the upper half of an extension ladder leaning against the cooling tower’s wall. The ladder had a warning sign which said, “CAUTION” and “THIS LADDER SECTION IS NOT DESIGNED FOR SEPARATE USE.” Despite these warnings, Johnson used the ladder. As he was climbing the ladder it slid out causing him to fall and suffer injuries. Johnson sued Raytheon, the hirer of the independent contractor, arguing the ladder, among other things, was unsafe and lead to Johnson’s injuries. Johnson believed that Raytheon’s course of conduct of leaving a platform ladder (as opposed to the extension ladder) at the wall constituted an implied agreement to always have one present, on which the independent contractor’s employees relied. Johnson further argued that Raytheon was negligent in providing a dangerous extension ladder, as opposed to a platform ladder, at the wall on the night of the accident. Reprinted courtesy of Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP attorneys Brett G. Moore, Michael C. Parme, Lindsey N. Ursua and Lawrence S. Zucker II Mr. Moore may be contacted at bmoore@hbblaw.com Mr. Parme may be contacted at mparme@hbblaw.com Ms. Lindsey may be contacted at lursua@hbblaw.com Mr. Lawrence may be contacted at lzucker@hbblaw.com Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of

    Ninth Circuit Finds Policy’s Definition of “Policy Period” Fatal to Insurer’s “Related Claims” Argument

    April 10, 2019 —
    Professional liability policies often include some form of a “related claims” or “related acts” provision stating that if more than one claim results from a single wrongful act, or a series of related wrongful acts, such claims will be treated as a single claim and deemed first made during the policy period in which the earliest claim was made. These provisions can have significant implications on the applicable policy and policy limits, retroactive date issues, and whether such claims were first made and reported during a particular policy period. Recently, the Ninth Circuit issued a stern reminder of how the particular policy language can effect, and in this case thwart, the intended scope of the carrier’s “related claims” provision. In Attorneys Ins. Mut. Risk Retention Grp., Inc. v. Liberty Surplus Ins. Corp., 2019 WL 643442 (9th Cir. Feb. 15, 2019), the Ninth Circuit construed a “related claims” provision included in two consecutive lawyers professional liability policies. During both the 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 insurance policy periods, attorney J. Wayne Allen (“Allen”) was insured through his employer by Liberty Surplus Insurance Corporation’s (“Liberty”) professional liability insurance. Third parties filed suit against Allen during the 2009–2010 policy period in a probate case, and a second, related civil suit during the 2010–2011 policy period. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Jason M. Taylor, Traub Lieberman
    Mr. Taylor may be contacted at jtaylor@tlsslaw.com