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Aas vs. William Lyon's Co - California Supreme Court 12-4-2000

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The HomeSafe Campaign (HomeSafeCampaign(--nospam--at) is inviting all interested parties to share their opinions and recommendations to their state legislators in Sacramento on February 21, 2001. The group is an advocacy group against construction defects.

WARNING: The following summary of the Supreme Court ruling is based upon my personal interpretation after reading the 63+ page ruling which is available for download
by clicking on this link if you received this message in HTML format OR from the Structuralist.Net website located at:"">
The California Supreme Court issued a ruling on 12-4-2000 on the appeal of the San Diego Superior Court decision of Aas verses William Lyon Company of Newport Beach. The decision upheld the Superior Court ruling that buildings are considered products and according to all cases presented that were related to product liability claims, owners may not file suit against the developer of a product unless the product has caused damage or injury. A claim that a code violation or defects in workmanship that may result in structural failures is not sufficient grounds to file a suit and should be covered under contract law which should indicate how defects are addressed in the warranty of the product. In this case, homes constructed by William Lyon Company were found to have numerous defects including code violations and non-conformance to the construction documents which indicate failure to connection shearwalls from the roof to the foundation as indicated on the drawings. 
The opinion set a precedence by treating the homes as a product and requiring the product to comply with all other laws pertaining to product liability. In this case, the builder had a warranty on his workmanship which was to cover a period of one year to ten years after the sale of the home. The warranty requires evidence of damage which the builder agrees to repair. After the warranty period, the homeowner becomes responsible for any damage.
In this case, the builder does not warranty non-compliance to the building code or non-conformance to the structural drawings, only damage that occurs from the quality of his work. If a seismic event does not occur during his warranty period that causes damage as a result of code violations or not connecting the shear walls to the roof as was claimed, the contractor becomes free of any and all future responsibility.
As one expert witness has stated, this ruling "is the force that drives the nail into the wrong coffin" as the homeowner must, by California law, disclose all known defects such as code violations and non-conformance to the construction documents.
The building industry is considering this a victory that will stop frivolous law suits and will help to reduce the cost of housing by eliminating the extremely high risk that the builder must carry. Indirectly, professional engineers and architects are also covered under the umbrella of this ruling as the structural system must fail and result in damage or injury before the homeowner or Homeowners association can sue. They do have the option of litigating the contractual agreement of the warranty, but this is a much more difficult task.
The Structuralist.Net is hosting a discussion forum between February 2, 2001 and February 18, 2001 and invites all interested parties to participate. The purpose is to place all of the concerns on the table including those in favor of the ruling equally as those against. On the 18th of February, the entire discussion thread will be printed for submittal to all legislators at the February 21st HomeSafe Campaign Lobby day in Sacramento California. All parties interested in meeting and discussing the issues with state legislators are invited to attend. You can obtain additional information by writing to HomeSafeCampaign(--nospam--at)
I do expect additional side issues to be discussed including the growing discontinuity between Conventional Prescriptive construction of UBC 2320 and the full-compliance requirements of UBC Chapter 16. Many of you have written me privately to voice your concern with the low to middle income housing throughout the state as engineers are being ridiculed by builders for over-designing (whatever that means) and who are advocating movement toward prescriptive methodology for homes formerly designed by full-compliance provisions.
I urge you to participate. The discussion is on the Public Forum and registration is not required. I do feel that it is important for you to identify yourself if you believe that credibility with state legislators is important - as they will receive your comments.
Finally, this ruling establishes a precedence that may have repercussions across the United States - especially in regions of high risk to earthquakes and heavy winds. Even if  you are not a resident of California I urge you to participate.
The discussion can be accessed through either the structuralist Public or Professional web pages - both of which is accessed through the home page at:

Dennis S. Wish, PE
The Structuralist Administrator for:
AEC-Residential Listservice
(208) 361-5447 E-Fax
ICQ #95561393

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