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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 Tort.

Although obviously based upon sound legal principles, it was still surprising to find out that the Supreme Court held in Ligon v. County of Goochland that whistleblower protections for county employees against retaliatory firings under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act ("VFATA") were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.  As many of our readers know, the doctrine of sovereign immunity gives immunity to the Commonwealth, as well as localities as political subdivisions of the Commonwealth, from liability for damages and from suits to restrain governmental action or to compel such actions (such as tort liability for actions or omissions of a county's agents and employees).  However, while the VFATA was likely intended to create protection for the Commonwealth's employees from retaliatory discharge for reporting corruption and fraudulent behavior, the Supreme Court found that the plain language of the statute failed to explicitly include retaliatory discharge necessary for it to waive its sovereign immunity.  So basically, a corrupt county employee can fire a whistleblower, and the whistleblower can't sue the county to get his job back or for damages.

Washington Snowstorm Lincoln MemorialSo, here in the Washington, DC area we are buried under a couple feet of snow.  You know we have a lot of snow when the Lincoln Memorial steps have been transformed into a good tobogan run.  Unfortunately, so much snow means a ton of dead load placed on roof structures.  There are a number of roof collapses reported around the area.  So far, the major blessing is it appears that none of these events have led to any serious personal injuries.  You can definitely expect that these significant collapse events will trigger equally significant property damage claims, business interruption issues, and perhaps threaten the long-term viability of some businesses.  These events include:

Here is a news report on the Baileys Crossroads roof collapse from WJLA:

[embed]http://cfc.wjla.com/mediaplayer.swf[/embed]

With the threat of more snow potentially on the way, the region may not have seen the last of these problems.  Building owners may face some significant hurdles to full recovery, including finding out the limitations of their insurance policies, facing problems with statutes of limitations and/or statutes of repose, and finding that responsible parties are casualties of the current economic crisis and thus are judgment proof.  All of these factors point to a few very important lessons:

  • Know and understand your insurance coverage and its limitations before you have problems
  • When shopping for insurance, evaluate risk and consider not just shopping for the lowest price; you may find that going cheap on insurance ultimately costs you far more
  • Know and understand applicable statutes of limitations and statutes of repose prior to entering into design, construction, or property purchase agreements
  • Factor in the impacts of these time limitation issues when you asses the appropriate levels and types of insurance your purchase
  • Do your homework - conducting detailed inspections prior to purchase and properly evaluating the strength and credentials of your consultants and contractors is an investment of time and money, but it is worth it in the long run rather than face a catastrophic loss in the future

Image by vpickering

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.

Katrina flooding St. Bernard ParishAfter a 19 day bench trial, on Wednesday evening a federal judge ruled in favor of six plaintiffs seeking compensation against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages flowing from Hurricane Katrina.  The court ruled that the United States was liable because the flooding leading to the homeowners' damages was caused by negligent maintenance of a significant navigation channel by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  The total verdict was for under $750,000 for the six plaintiffs; however, the result exposes the United States to liability claims for many other claimants who resided in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.