We 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.
Construction products liability cases present a very messy interaction between tort, contract, traditional economic loss principles, and the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). We have previously discussed Virginia’s economic loss rule which basically provides that in order to recover economic losses, you need to have a contract with the party you are suing. To understand the interplay, we need to get a little more technical than we usually do here on the blog.
The UCC states at Section 8.2-318, “Lack of privity … shall be no defense in any action brought against the manfuacturer or seller of goods to recover damages for breach of warranty, express or implied, or for negligence [.]” That should end the issue on products cases as the statute is clear, right?
Wrong. The Supreme Court of Virginia found in the Beard Plumbing case that with regards to claims for consequential damages, the consequential damage statute was more specific and controlled over the general “anti-privity” statute. The consequential damage allowed recovery of losses known by the seller “at the time of contracting “. Thus, the court ruled that to recover consequential damages under the UCC, the claimant still has to demonstrate privity of contract despite the UCC anti-privity statute.
Next time, we will talk about what are direct versus consequential damages, in particular as it relates to privity and economic loss. Teaser: if the plaintiff is stuck with the direct damages as precisely defined in the UCC, the plaintiff is one unhappy camper on a construction case.