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This blog focuses on real estate, land use and construction-related topics affecting Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area. With topics ranging from contract drafting and negotiation to local and regional land use project updates, the attorneys at Bean, Kinney & Korman provide timely insight and commentary on the issues affecting owners, builders, developers, contractors, subcontractors and other players in the industry. If you are interested in having us cover a specific topic, please let us know.

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Posts tagged Economic Loss Rule.

Pest ControlA decision issued this month by the Supreme Court of Virginia, Kaltman v All American Pest, answers a question often debated by Virginia lawyers regarding the economic loss rule.  The case also may contain a hidden Trojan horse to contract defenses that everyone should pay attention to.

Question markMany plaintiffs attempt to allege fraud claims in construction cases.  These attempts generally fail in Virginia because a claimant must allege a basis for a fraud claim that arises outside the context of a contractual duty.  This theory was clearly established in the Richmond v. McDevitt Street Bovis case in 1998, but we still see it regularly playing out in Virginia state and federal courts. 

The Virginia Supreme Court recently gave us yet another example of a breach of contract case that couldn’t rise to a fraud in the inducement claim in Station #2, LLC v. Lynch, et al., Record No. 091410.

In Station #2, the Lynches owned a three-story building in the City of Roanoke. They sold the top two floors to 237 Granby LLC in order to convert the floors to condos. The Lynches then leased the ground floor to Station #2 so it could operate a restaurant with live music and other entertainment. The lease between the Lynches and Station #2 required Station #2 to install soundproofing material in the void space between Station #2’s ceiling and the lower level of 237 Granby’s condos. 237 Granby’s agent agreed to allow Station #2 access to the void space, but the company hired by the agent to renovate and develop the condos closed off the void space before Station #2 could soundproof.

Hale Boggs Federal BuildingI spent this weekend thinking about the significant victory for Virginia home owners in the Chinese drywall litigation that was tried as part of the pending class action in New Orleans.  It may have mattered quite a bit that this ruling was issued in New Orleans as opposed to Virginia. 

I run the risk of delving into legal complexity, but it is necessary here to understand these issues.  We have talked about the economic loss rule several times here, in particular as it relates to products liability cases, and implications of classifying damages in such cases.  Those interested in design and construction issues in Virginia absolutely need to understand the economic loss rule.  The contours of this rule define who can whom and for what.  This rule is heavily briefed, argued, and litigated and can mean the difference between a big payday and a big goose egg.

Virginia law continues to apply a strict division between contract claims and tort claims.  This rule holds true in the context of professional malpractice claims as well.  Many states apply legal rules where professional malpractice claims arise from negligence or both negligence and contract.  This is not the case - from 1976 forward, the Supreme Court of Virginia stated in Oleyar v. Kerr that a claim for professional malpractice, while sounding in tort, was actually a claim for breach of contract with a contract statute of limitations.

As we watch Chinese drywall litigation erupt nationally, we see the rapid fallout: insurance companies denying coverage; suppliers going bankrupt; homeowners filing suit against all the parties in the food chain.  We have seen this story before.  In Virginia, the applicable could translate to some very harsh results even if owner plaintiffs can prove the drywall was defective and caused damages.

Why is that?  We have learned that Virginia requires a contract to recover "economic losses".  We have also discussed that this requirement extends to products liability cases for recovery of "consequential damages" despite a statute in the Uniform Commercial Code that appears to eliminate lack of privity as a defense.  We now need to see how these definitions play out in actual context.

The Island of Misfit ToysWe have seen waves of claimed problems with construction products over the last several decades: PVC plumbing fixtures and materials; fire retardant treated (FRT) plywood; exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS).  We are on the front edge of another eruption with Chinese drywall, and indeed we have heard the first rumblings that the drywall problems may extended to materials manufactured in the United States.  It seems like the construction industry has become the Land of Misfit Toys from my favorite old school TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  

 

Broken ChainThe economic loss rule defines that most basic of questions: who can sue whom and for what claims.  Virginia still sticks to an extremely Conservative judicial model and this philosophical thread is readily apparent in cases dealing with this question.  The Virginia economic loss rule provides that in order to sue a party for "economic losses", the plaintiff generally needs to have a contract with the defendant.