Perhaps the greatest single investment you will make in your lifetime, and thus your greatest asset, is your home. Your home is your castle and your refuge from the outside world-unless, of course, your house or some part of it is defective. If you have suffered damages as a result of a housing defect, you may be able to make a claim against the person or company that designed or built the house, or against the company that designed, manufactured, sold, or furnished a defective product used in the house. A claim based on a defective product is called a products liability claim. Lawyers who specialize in products liability law can assist persons who fall victim to defective housing in bringing their claims and being adequately compensated for their damages.
Products Liability Claims, In General
Products liability law is based on the responsibility of a manufacturer or other provider of goods to compensate users of the goods for injuries caused by defective or dangerous products. The basic idea underlying products liability law is that the companies providing the products are usually in the best position to prevent defective products from entering the marketplace, so if they fail to do so, they should be held accountable. The law in this area has evolved from the days of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) to, in some instances, strict liability, in which manufacturers are responsible for injuries caused by their defective or unreasonably dangerous products even if they were not negligent.
In a products liability action, the injured person, or plaintiff, must prove that there was a design or manufacturing defect in the product, or that the manufacturer did not adequately warn consumers about the product’s possible dangers; that the product caused the injuries; and that he or she was using the product in the way it was intended to be used, or that the manufacturer should have anticipated that the product would be misused in the way that it was.
Manufacturing defects are usually easier to prove than design defects. If a particular homeowner’s furnace explodes when first lit, for example, it is pretty clear that the furnace was not manufactured as the designer intended it to be. A design-defect case, on the other hand, could arise if many or all furnaces of a manufacturer’s particular model posed a threat of explosion. In other words, in a design-defect case, the product may have been manufactured as it was intended to be, but the design was inadequately planned in such a way as to pose unreasonable hazards to consumers. Proving a design defect involves passing judgment on technical choices and usually requires expert testimony.
Proving causation in a products liability case can be complicated. The plaintiff must establish that the product was defective when it left the hands of the defendant and that the defect was the cause of the accident that led to the injuries. If the injuries could have arisen from several potential causes, such as poor workmanship as well as a product defect, the plaintiff usually must establish that the product defect had a substantial role in bringing about the injuries.
Possible legal theories that can be argued in a products liability case include negligence (lack of reasonable care in the manufacture or sale of the product or in warning about the product), breach of warranty (failure to fulfill the terms of a promise regarding the product), misrepresentation (giving consumers a false sense of security about a product’s safety), and strict tort liability (the product’s defect, although not the fault of the defendant, rendered the product unreasonably dangerous and the defendant is therefore responsible). Failure-to-warn liability may also arise if a manufacturer fails to warn consumers of a product’s potential dangers and instruct product users on any precautions they must take. Warnings must be conspicuous enough to grab the attention of a reasonable person, and they must clearly explain the nature and seriousness of the possible risks.
Housing Defect Cases
Construction defect law exploded in the 1980s when new home construction rates rose dramatically. As homes and condos were hurriedly mass produced, builders began cutting corners and defects proliferated. Some housing defect cases are simple waterproofing problems (not actually so simple to the inconvenienced homeowner), but others concern structural defects that render then entire home unsafe or uninhabitable.
Almost any condition that reduces a home’s value could be legally characterized as a construction defect. Defects may be in design, materials, or workmanship; only the first two, however, give rise to products liability claims. Construction defects can consist of or lead to dry rot, water seepage, faulty drainage, termite infestation, structural failure or collapse, defective plumbing, faulty electrical wiring, defective lighting or security, insufficient insulation, and inadequate firewalls, to name just a few examples.
In most cases, expert testimony will be required to prove a construction defect. Experts must have the necessary training and experience to give testimony in court as to the cause of housing damage. If, for example, you have a leaky roof, an architect who has designed effective roofs and evaluated other roofs would be in a good position to give credible testimony on why your roof leaks. A general contractor, by contrast, although possibly the right person to repair your leaky roof, may not be the best authority to convince a judge or jury that your roof was defective.
If you experience losses as a result of a housing defect, you may be able to recover the costs of necessary repairs, relocation costs if you have to temporarily vacate your home, and punitive damages if the contractor’s conduct demonstrated a conscious disregard for your rights. Housing defect claims are, however, subject to statutes of limitations, which limit the time period in which you may bring a claim, so it is best to act promptly once a defect is known. In some cases, statutes of repose will entirely prevent the bringing of a claim if the subject property was completed a number of years earlier, even if you only recently became aware of the damages.
If you have suffered property damages as a result of a housing defect, you may be able to make a claim against the builder or the maker or supplier of a defective component part. When seeking an attorney to represent you in connection with such a claim, be sure to investigate his or her background in products liability or construction law. Ask questions about his or her training and experience so that you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right person to zealously represent your interests against a big company that may have many more resources than you do to fight the claims against it. Only with a veteran products liability or construction attorney on your side can you be sure to achieve an outcome that best compensates you for your losses.
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