When you buy a newly constructed home, you have particular expectations that the house will not fall apart. In Pennsylvania, state law against construction defects safeguards homeowners even if the warranty companies and builders neglect them.

A construction defect is a condition in a person’s house or any other structure that reflects mistakes or deficiencies in the construction process. This covers several potential issues, from exposed nails and peeling paint to splintered foundations and structural collapse. The number of construction defect cases is on the rise as more houses are constructed to meet the demands for housing.

Construction defects can result from four general kinds of construction deficiencies:

Deficiencies in Design
Design deficiencies result from the work of the design and engineering experts, such as structural engineers and architects, who make mistakes or fail to respect the appropriate building codes and professional standards. For instance, a roof that is not designed per applicable building codes or engineering measures can result in water intrusion or insufficient support.

Deficiencies in Materials
Material deficiencies include the use of defective or unsuitable building materials. For instance, the plan may call for a special grade of wood in an element of a structure, but that grade is not available when the time comes to build the element. The contractor may substitute a different grade that results in some element malfunction. Or, some material needed for a structure might be harmed in transit, but the building contractor overlooks the damage, and the item is installed anyway. Again, a malfunction in the element constructed with the defective material may result.

Deficiencies in Construction
Construction deficiencies result from shoddy workmanship during building construction. This can result in cracked foundations, dry rot, electrical issues, plumbing issues, and pest infestation.

Deficiencies in Preparation of the Subsurface
Subsurface deficiencies happen when soil conditions are unfit for its structure, making it unstable. Building on unsuitable subsurfaces may result in cracks in the structure’s foundation, walls, or floors.

Common lawsuits for construction defects include negligence and breach of contract. To be successful in a lawsuit that involves construction defects, the assistance of professional expert testimony will be required.

According to a contract, a lawsuit based on breach of contract would likely be brought by the owner against the contractor and others involved in the building project’s design, planning, and construction.

Two main damages can be awarded in a claim for breach of contract based on construction defects. The kind awarded in any individual case would depend partly on the nature of the project and the extent of the defect. Another aspect would be whether the defect robs the owner of the use of its property or interrupts the owner’s business.

Construction projects may involve a simple home renovation or a substantial multi-billion-dollar public works project on the other end.

Damages for negligence are called “compensatory damages” and are paid for actual physical injuries and property damage. They are intended to return the victim to the same position they were in before they became the victim of negligence.

Sometimes compensatory damages are categorized as tangible and intangible:

Tangible losses
Tangible losses are those that are readily estimated. For instance, tangible damages for personal injury include all medical costs for treating the physical injury (including expenses projected for the future) and lost wages, both present and projected, if the victim must miss work due to their injuries. Property damage is computed either by the cost of repair or replacement. Property damage may also cover the loss of use of the property while it is being repaired or replaced, e.g., the price of a rental car while the victim’s car is being repaired.

Intangible losses
Intangible losses are those without a specific price attached, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and other mental health consequences suffered by the victim. The jury is generally liable for establishing the value of intangible losses. There are no hard-and-fast regulations for estimating damages for pain and suffering or the infliction of emotional distress. Typically, however, the amount must be proportionate to the damages awarded for the tangible losses.

Lawsuits based on a theory of strict liability or fraud theory are also possible but not very common.

What Implied Warranties Do I Have?

An implied warranty is a warranty made by the law. Implied warranties automatically apply when the seller offers some product for sale, even if the seller says nothing about how the product will perform.

Two warranties generally apply for construction defects when purchasing a home in Pennsylvania:

  1. Implied warranties of habitability
  2. Warranty of reasonable workmanship

The implied warranty of habitability guarantees that your home is fit for living, in which, at the minimum, it has running water, plumbing, and electricity.

Under the implied warranty of reasonable workmanship, the builder must construct the house completely and professionally. The home is not made cheap and will withstand typical weather conditions.

Do I Have a Breach of Contract Claim?

Occasionally, the builder will spell out the warranties in the contract. If contract clauses are broken, there will be a breach of contract claim.

For instance, the builder may guarantee running water through each of the three bathrooms in the house. If the pipes burst in one bathroom and the water supply cannot be fixed, there may be a breach of contract claim.

Do I Have a Negligence Claim?

If the builder did not construct the home according to the timetable and that resulted in a defect, you may have a negligence claim against the builders.

Additionally, if the inspector was negligent in inspecting your home for habitability as mandated by law or negligently failed to report the defects, the inspector may be liable.

Negligence has four major parts that must be shown to recover for injuries. Those parts are duty, breach, causation, and damages. Even if those four parts are shown, and negligence is proved, a defense might still mitigate how much a defending party must pay.

A duty is a responsibility one individual owes to another. In general, individuals going about their business owe a duty of “reasonable care.” “Reasonable care” is the care an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same situation.

For instance, if a person is driving during a rainstorm, they would be exercising “reasonable care” by going slower and having their headlights on to improve visibility. A person would not be exercising reasonable care if they instead were driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit.

A breach happens when an individual’s care falls below the level demanded by their duty. The individual driving forty miles per hour in the above example breached their duty of reasonable care by driving so fast during a rainstorm.

The breach of duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation is a bit more complicated than that, but the basic test is that the injury would not have occurred but for one party’s actions.

In the above example, if the individual driving too fast during a rainstorm didn’t have enough time to stop before hitting another car, they have breached their duty of reasonable care which then caused injury to the other vehicle.

In general, there has to be some harm that occurred. The injury can vary from property damage to emotional stress to lost wages.

All of the above need to be present in order to successfully determine that the other party was negligent. If one of the above cannot be established, then negligence cannot be shown.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Construction Defects?

Under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations is 12 years from the date of construction to file a claim for construction defects.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you discover a construction defect on your newly built home, you should consult a real estate lawyer in Pennsylvania. They will help you strategize and remedy your loss.