Articles Posted in Construction Law

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Homeowners sued Builder for failing to construct their home in a good and workmanlike manner. Builder’s commercial general liability insurer (Insurer) refused to defend Builder in the suit. Judgment was granted in favor of Homeowners after a trial, and Builder assigned the majority of its claims against Insurer to Homeowners. Homeowners subsequently sought to recover the judgment from Insurer under the applicable policy. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Homeowners. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and, in the interests of justice, remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial, holding (1) the judgment against Builder was not binding on Insurer in this suit because it was not the product of a fully adversarial proceeding; but (2) this insurance litigation may serve to determine Insurer’s liability, although the parties in the case focused on other issues during the trial. View "Great American Insurance Co. v. Hamel" on Justia Law

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Centerpoint Builders was hired as the general contractor to build an apartment complex. Centerpoint contracted with a subcontractor to install wooden roof trusses. Centerpoint purchased the trusses directly from Trussway, Ltd., the truss manufacturer. Merced Fernandez, an independent contractor, was rendered paraplegic when a truss broke while he was walking across it. Fernandez sued several entities, including Centerpoint and Trussway, and eventually settled. Centerpoint filed a cross-action against Trussway alleging that Trussway was required to indemnify Centerpoint for any loss arising from Fernandez’s suit. Trussway filed its own indemnity cross claim against Centerpoint. Centerpoint sought partial summary judgment, arguing that it was a seller under Tex. Civil Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. chapter 82 and was thus entitled to indemnity as a matter of law. Chapter 82 entitles the “seller” of a defective product to indemnity from the product manufacturer for certain losses. The trial court concluded that Centerpoint was a seller under chapter 82. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Centerpoint did not fit the statutory definition of a seller and was therefore not eligible to seek indemnity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Centerpoint, as the general contractor, was not a “seller” entitled to seek indemnity under chapter 82. View "Centerpoint Builders GP, LLC v. Trussway, Ltd." on Justia Law

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At issue in this residential construction dispute was whether the statutory cap on exemplary damages is waived if not pleaded as an affirmative defense or avoidance. The trial court affirmed an exemplary damages award in excess of the statutory cap because Petitioner did not assert the cap until her motion for a new trial. The court of appeals affirmed the exemplary damages award, concluding that the statutory cap on exemplary damages did not apply because Petitioner failed to expressly plead the cap as an affirmative defense. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the court of appeals’ judgment in relation to the exemplary cap, holding (i) the exemplary damages cap is not a matter ”constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense” and need not be affirmatively pleaded because it applies automatically when invoked and does not require proof of additional facts, and (ii) because Petitioner timely asserted the cap in her motion for new trial, the exemplary damages must be capped at $200,000; and (2) affirmed in all other respects. View "Zorilla v. Aypco Constr. II, LLC" on Justia Law

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A property developer filed suit against several defendants involved in a construction project asserting claims for negligence and breach of contract. Defendants filed motions to compel arbitration, which the trial court denied. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that the developer must arbitrate its claims against the general contractor but not its claims against the other defendants, as (1) the developer agreed to arbitrate its claims against the general contractor, and the general contractor did not waive its right to demand arbitration; (2) the developer’s argument that a contractual deadline barred the general contractor’s demand for arbitration was itself a claim that must be arbitrated; (3) the developer did not agree in the general contract to arbitrate its claims against the other defendants; (4) the developer was not equitably estopped from denying its assent to its purported agreement that the other defendants could enforce the general contract’s arbitration provisions; and (5) the subcontracts did not require the parties to arbitrate these claims. View "G.T. Leach Builders, LLC v. Sapphire V.P., L.P." on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a construction corporation, contracted to construct a wharf for Respondent, the Port of Houston Authority of Harris County, Texas. After the construction was to be completed, Petitioner sued, claiming damages from delays caused by the Port. The Port, in turn, claimed that a no-damages-for-delay provision in the construction contract between the parties precluded delay damages. Petitioner also sought recovery of $2.36 million in delay damages withheld by the Port for Petitioner’s failure to meet deadlines. After a trial, the jury found that the Port had breached the contract for deliberately and wrongfully interfering with Petitioner’s work, causing Petitioner to incur $18,602,697 in delay damages. The jury also found Petitioner had not released its claim to the $2.36 million liquidated damages the Port withheld. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding (1) the Local Government Contract Claims Act waives governmental immunity from suit on a contract claim for delay damages the contract does not call for; (2) the no-damages-for-delay provision in the parties’ contract did not shield the Port from liability for deliberately and wrongfully interfering with the contractor’s work; and (3) Petitioner was entitled to recover the liquidated damages withheld by the Port. View "Zachry Constr. Corp. v. Port of Houston Auth. of Harris County" on Justia Law

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Two subcontractors employed by Petitioner, a homebuilder, asserted claims on behalf of a class of subcontractors whose pay Petitioner had docked when the subcontractors did not furnish proof of adequate general liability insurance coverage. The parties settled. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Petitioner would issue refunds checks, sending them to existing subcontractors as it would their paychecks or by mailing checks to the last known addresses of former subcontractors. The class representatives agreed, on behalf of the settlement class members, that refund checks not negotiated within ninety days of issuance would be void and that those and other unclaimed funds would be given to The Nature Conservancy as a cy pres award. The trial court approved the settlement and rendered final judgment accordingly. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the Texas Unclaimed Property Act prohibited the imposition of a ninety-day deadline for negotiating settlement checks and the cy pres award. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Act did not apply in this case and that the judgment approving the settlement agreement was binding on all settlement class members. View "Highland Homes Ltd. v. State" on Justia Law

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A Homeowner contracted with a Builder to build a home on property owned by the Homeowner. The Builder contracted with a Plumber to put in the plumbing at the house. After the home was completed, the Builder and the Homeowner sued the Plumber for damages allegedly caused by plumbing leaks, alleging breach of contract, breach of express warranty, and negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Plumber, reasoning (1) the Homeowner could not recover contract damages because it was not a party to the plumbing subcontract, nor could the Builder recover contract damages because it had not suffered any compensable damage; and (2) the plaintiffs did not have a negligence claim because they did not allege violation of any tort duty independent of the contract. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that the pleadings and summary judgment evidence negated the existence of a negligence claim. View "Chapman Custom Homes, Inc. v. Dallas Plumbing Co." on Justia Law

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Ewing Construction Company entered into a contract with a school district to serve as general contractor on a project. The school district later filed suit against Ewing for faulty construction. Ewing tendered defense of the underlying suit to Amerisure Insurance Company, Ewing's insurer under a commercial package policy that included commercial general liability coverage. Amerisure denied coverage, and Ewing filed suit in federal district court seeking a declaration that Amerisure breached its duty to defend and indemnify Ewing for damages awarded in the underlying suit. The district court granted summary judgment for Amerisure, concluding that the policy’s contractual liability exclusion applied to exclude coverage because Ewing assumed liability for its own construction work pursuant to the contract such that it would be liable for damages arising out of its defective work. On appeal, the court of appeals certified questions to the Texas Supreme Court, which answered that “a general contractor that enters into a contract in which it agrees to perform its construction work in a good and workmanlike manner, without more specific provisions enlarging this obligation, does not ‘assume liability’ for damages arising out of the contractor’s defective work so as to trigger the contractual liability exclusion.” View "Ewing Constr. Co., Inc. v. Amerisure Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Homes built with an exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) suffer serious water damage that worsens over time. Homebuilder began a remediation program in which it offered to homeowners to remove exterior EIFS from the homes it had built and to replace it with conventional stucco. Almost all the homeowners accepted Homebuilder's offer of remediation. Homebuilder sought indemnification for the costs from its insurers (Insurers). Insurers denied coverage, preferring instead to wait until the homeowners sued. This litigation ensued. Now, only one insurer remained. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of Homebuilder, finding (1) Homebuilder failed to establish its legal liability to the homeowners to trigger Insurer's coverage; and (2) Homebuilder failed to offer evidence of damages covered by the policy. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Homebuilder's settlements with the homeowners established both Insurer's legal liability for the property damages and the basis for determining the amount of loss; and (2) Insurer's policy covered Homebuilder's entire remediation costs for damaged homes. View "Lennar Corp. v. Markel Am. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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A pipeline owner (Owner) purchased sixty-eight mile-long pipeline constructed in the 1940s and made plans to remove the old pipeline and construct a new one that would carry butane. Owner awarded Contractor the contract to replace a certain section of the pipeline. After Contractor commenced work, Contractor filed suit against Owner for breach of contract and fraud based on Owner's failure to locate several hundred "foreign crossings" in the pipeline's path and its subsequent refusal to compensate Contractor for its additional expenses resulting from the obstacles. The trial court found in favor of Owner, finding that the parties' contract allocated the risk of any additional cost incurred because of foreign crossings to Contractor. The court of appeals reversed, finding that Owner failed to exercise due diligence in locating the foreign crossings. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and reinstated the trial court's judgment, holding (1) the contract allocated all risk to Contractor for unknown obstacles discovered during the construction process; and (2) the jury's answers to questions about Contractor's recovery for breach of contract based on due diligence were immaterial. View "El Paso Field Servs., L.P. v. MasTec N.A., Inc." on Justia Law