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What Is Construction Negligence?

Construction negligence happens when a project fails to comply with building codes and standards of care. Negligence at any stage of a construction project can threaten the safety of occupants and the integrity of the affected structure. Construction negligence commonly arises during the actual construction or repair of a building, but it can occur during the design phase of a project as well.

Types of Construction Defects 

Construction defects fall into two categories: patent and latent.

The difference between patent and latent construction defects is that patent defects refer to known or obvious construction deficiencies or those easily detectable after inspection. Latent defects are hidden construction deficiencies or those that are hard to detect even after a thorough inspection because the defect may be hidden behind walls or under flooring. The most common types of construction defects include: 

Design Defects 

Design defects stem from the failure of an engineer or architect to create error-free and properly organized construction designs. They can arise by error, inaccuracy, or omission. A redesign or replacement of a specific component may help rectify an error-related design defect. 

Material Defects 

These defects occur because of defective, damaged, or insufficient building material. Material defects arising from the manufacturer may be detected too late in the construction process to remedy the defect, or after the project is complete. For this reason, material defects may be costly to correct. 

Workmanship Defects 

These defects arise when a contractor does not comply with specific building codes or standards during construction of a structure or a component. Workmanship defects can also happen when builders use unskilled labor to cut costs. In fact, using unskilled labor is one of the signs the builder cut corners.

What Are Examples of Construction Negligence?

Architect and Builder

An architect provides inaccurate information to a builder making a trench for electrical cables. The builder damages a water pipe, causing the neighbor’s property to flood. The architect may be liable to the builder for violating the duty to provide accurate information. The architect may also be liable for the flood and damages caused. 

Builder and Pedestrian 

A builder fails to construct catch platforms to keep falling materials from hitting those walking near a construction site. A ladder falls on a pedestrian passing near the construction site. The builder may be legally responsible for the pedestrian’s injuries for failing to observe reasonable safety standards. 

Builder and Homeowner 

A contractor or builder constructs a house with foundation problems. Upon inspection, the homeowner discovers the issue. The homeowner has the right to hold the builder or contractor liable for damages arising from his or her negligent work. 

Attempts by home builders to speed up the construction process while controlling costs are one of the main factors fueling the construction defect pandemic. Unfortunately, home builders sometimes take shortcuts when the existing home inventory cannot meet the skyrocketing demand for homes. 

Duty of Care in Construction Negligence Cases 

Duty of care is a legal term that describes the level of responsibility of parties involved in the construction process. These parties have a legal duty to obey safety standards and building regulations to prevent defects and accidents during the construction project. This duty of care covers construction workers, homeowners, commercial property owners, homeowners’ associations, residents, and subsequent property buyers.

Multiple parties may be in charge of duty of care in a construction project. The reason is that different parties may take over management or supervisory responsibilities during construction. These parties could include:

  • Architects 
  • Engineers 
  • General contractors 
  • Subcontractors 
  • Surveyors 
  • Project managers 

How Do Courts Establish Construction Negligence? 

Construction professionals must employ reasonable care, expertise, and workmanship during construction. Damages, including injuries, construction defects, or monetary losses, may arise if these parties are negligent in their actions. 

Proving construction negligence in the court is an arduous task. You must prove specific elements to win a construction negligence case. A construction defect lawyer can compile the evidence and convincing arguments required to prove these four elements. 

Duty of Care 

As mentioned earlier, a contractor owes a homeowner the duty to observe safety standards and relevant building codes. This duty of care kicks in once the contractor signs a construction contract with the homeowner or when a builder decides to build a home that will be sold to the public. 

Violation of Duty of Care 

After establishing the duty of care, you must demonstrate that the contractor violated his or her duty of care. Your lawyer will help you show that the contractor acted negligently and failed to fulfill the contract provisions, generally through the assistance of a litigation construction expert witness.


This element requires you (or the lawyer) to show that the contractor’s actions directly led to your injury, damages, or losses. Your injury, damage, or loss could have been prevented if the contractor or builder had honored his or her duty of care. 


You must show that you suffered real damages due to the contractor’s negligent actions. Foundation damage, mold growth, and exterior cracking, for instance, may indicate negligence on the part of the contractor. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations/Repose for Construction Negligence? 

The deadline for filing a construction negligence claim varies with state and local law. Nevada, for instance, has a 10-year statute of repose after substantial project completion. This deadline applies unless claims arise from fraud. 

The fraud exception under Nevada’s statute of repose excludes junior subcontractors if they unintentionally conceal fraud-related construction defects. This unintentional concealment by junior subcontractors must be “reasonable.” Your lawyer can help you understand your state-specific statute of limitations and statute of repose and how to proceed with the case.

Then the 3-year Nevada statute of limitations for negligence also comes into play, which triggers from when you knew or should have known of the defective condition.  Both the statute of repose and statute of limitation will be applied so it is important to contact a construction defect attorney so that you understand your deadline to file an action. 

How A Construction Defect Attorney Can Assist in Your Case 

A construction defect attorney is a crucial legal resource in establishing construction negligence and recovering damages. An attorney who has handled construction negligence cases before will know the rules, regulations, and court decisions that apply to your case. The attorney can help your case in the following ways: 

Determining Damages 

A construction defect attorney can investigate your case and build a claim that accounts for the full extent of your damages. The attorney can assemble evidence to help prove how the contractor’s negligent action directly caused your damages, losses, or injuries. This is usually done by hiring experts for the types of defects present at the home.

Mastery of Construction Rules and Regulations 

Local and state rules are the bedrock of construction law. A lawyer who understands your local laws can easily identify incidents of local building code violations and all pre-litigation and litigation requirements. 

Accessing Qualified Construction Professionals 

Construction defect attorneys regularly work with engineers, architects, and other qualified individuals in the construction industry. They can tap into these work relationships to find a qualified person to examine the structure and determine whether the contractor followed the relevant standard of care and codes. 

Bringing an Expert Witness on Board 

You may need an expert witness to testify for you to win a construction negligence case. The witness can explain to the Jury or Judge the applicable safety standards and building regulations in your area. The witness can then show how your contractor or builder breached those standards and regulations. 

Other contractors, engineers, builders, or other parties with specific information about the construction in question may qualify as expert witnesses. Your lawyer will know whom to bring on board as an expert witness.

Fernley Flood Victims Win $18.1M Settlement

Eight years, dozens of lawyers and hundreds of thousands of documents later, more than 200 northern Nevada Fernley flood victims are finally going to be paid for damages suffered when a century-old irrigation canal burst and sent a wall of water into their homes in 2008.

No one was killed or seriously injured but 590 homes in Fernley were flooded when water burst through a 50-foot breach in the canal’s earthen embankment Jan. 5, 2008.

A 2-foot-tall wave swamped the neighborhood and water collected 8 feet deep in some parts of the rural town 30 miles east of Reno. More than a dozen residents were rescued from rooftops by helicopter, while others were taken to safety by boats.

Judy Kroshus, lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit the local irrigation district recently agreed to settle for $18.1 million, and her 2-year-old grandchild were stranded by water “up to our windshield” before her son waded several blocks to rescue them.

“We were lucky to get out,” she said.

The aging, 31-mile canal is a key component of the nation’s first federal reclamation project, started in 1903. It’s owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation but managed by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District (TCID). The bureau concluded within two months of the breach that burrowing rodents had weakened the canal, causing it to fail.

In July 2012, a federal jury returned a verdict during the liability phase of the trial finding the district’s history of negligence in maintaining the canal was primarily to blame. Soon after, the district agreed to a $10 million settlement, but then backed out.

The damages phase of the trial was scheduled to resume two months ago, but the district agreed to the new settlement terms after its members voted in February to raise money to finance the damage award by selling off some water rights to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. Judge Lloyd George approved the deal March 31.

“The settlement finally brings closure to those who were harmed through no fault of their own,” said Patrick Leverty, lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

Kroshus, who’s the director of a tribal health service resource center in Fernley, said she had to short-sell her flood-damaged home and bought a new one just a year ago. “It’s not in the flood area,” she said.

A similar rupture in the same vicinity flooded 60 homes in December 1996.

The $18.1 million settlement includes about $7.8 million in attorney fees and expenses.

Laverty said no one in the class objected to that part of the deal.

TCID Found Liable

After a 14-day trial, a jury has found that the Truckee Carson Irrigation District failed to properly maintain the Truckee Canal and is liable for damages suffered by hundreds of Fernley residents during the 2008 flood.

“The jury’s verdict sends a strong message to irrigation districts that they must maintain their project works, especially in areas of increased urbanization,” Patrick Leverty, a lawyer for the victims, said in a statement. “This verdict shows that justice has been done.”

The civil case, heard by Senior Justice Miriam Shearing in the Third Judicial District Court, is one of a handful of class-actions lawsuits filed by victims who were impacted by floodwaters that breached the canal, sending waves through Fernley neighborhoods on Jan. 5, 2008.

Shearing set a status conference for Aug. 30 to discuss the damages phase of the case against the district. The victims are seeking compensation for personal and real property lost or damaged when the embankment failed, said their lawyer, Robert Maddox.

In January, victims who sued Lyon County and district board members received their share of a $10 million settlement.

In that case, the plaintiffs claimed Fernley and Lyon County were negligent by failing to maintain drainage and infrastructure, Leverty said.

About 40 feet of an irrigation canal levee collapsed Jan. 5, 2008, in Fernley, damaging about 600 homes. Residents fled from flooded homes; some were evacuated from their rooftops by helicopters.

The breach of the canal spewed walls of water from 2 to 8 feet high that left 3,500 people temporarily stranded across a square mile. The Bureau of Reclamation blamed burrowing rodents and inadequate maintenance.

President George W. Bush declared portions of Fernley a national disaster area, providing more than $1.75 million in federal assistance to the victims.

In the jury trial that ended Monday, Leverty said the jury found that the district “negligently maintained the Truckee Canal” and that negligence caused the embankment to fail.

Messages left with district officials were not immediately returned.

The district had argued that it was not informed about studies involving internal erosion.

But the jury found that the district was repeatedly alerted that repairs needed to be done, Leverty said.

“Despite being told repeatedly to repair the embankment, TCID did not consider it a priority and never repaired any rodent holes in the Truckee Canal along the urbanized area of Fernley,” he said.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, read more.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Residents Pack Fernley City Hall; Questions Still Remain

Kellene Stockwell
Channel 2 News

Hundreds of Fernley residents packed into city hall Monday night to learn if, when or how the federal government will help them with recovery.

“We are all sitting there saying, ‘when is that going to happen? The fed can’t help us. Is the state going to help us? Is something local going to happen?’ I mean, I don’t know,” says victim Kim James.

Governor Jim Gibbons sent a disaster declaration request to President Bush Monday night. If approved, money and resources would come from the federal government.

Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler told residents he knows they’re frustrated but urged them not to start blaming yet.

Click here to read the full article on

Another Class-Action Lawsuit Filed over Fernley Flood

Three law firms have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of victims of the Fernley flood – the second such complaint in two days.

In their suit filed in Lyon County District Court in Yerington, Nev. The Reno firms Maddox & Associates, Leverty & Associates and Dunlap & Laxalt are seeking unspecified damages from the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

The complaint came a day after Reno Lawyer Robert Hagar filed a suit in Washoe County District Court on behalf of Judy Kroshus, whose home was among hundreds flooded after a storm-swollen irrigation canal ruptured Jan. 5. That suit, which also seeks class-action status, names the irrigation district, local governments and homebuilders as defendants.

Both lawsuits allege that the irrigation district did not properly maintain the canal and failed to minimize damage once the break occurred in the fast-growing town 30 miles east of Reno.

Ernie Schank, TCID president , said the district reacted as quickly as possible after learning about the rupture, which was reported at about 4:20 a.m.

“This will be a complex case.” lawyer Cal Dunlap told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “A lot of this is unknown territory. It’s not immediately clear which laws apply.”

Judges will have to certify the lawsuits as class actions, meaning that the suits represents all plaintiffs affected by the flood.

“It’s unusual for two class actions to be certified,” said Jeffery Stempel, a law professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Filing first is always an advantage.”

Stempel maintained the irrigation district general would be liable for flood damage.

“If you’ve penned up an animal and the animal escaped and hurt someone, it’s usually your responsibility.” He said. “In this case, the district penned up water and it got away from them.”

The irrigation district operates the canal under a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns it.

Schank has said he realizes the district will be targeted by lawsuits, but was unsure whether it’s liable for flood damage.

Betsy Rieke, area manager for the reclamation bureau, has said her agency thinks the district would be liable.

Rieke’s agency continues to investigate the cause of the breach, which occurred after unusually heavy rain.

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, click here.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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