Contractors May Be Liable for Defects Years After Project Completion

When a building collapses decades after it was built, can contractors still be held accountable? In the case of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, FL—which collapsed about 40 years after its project completion date—they very well could be.

Many contractors have bought into the idea that they can wash their hands of a project once its finished. This is simply not true. Per Construction Dive, this common misconception stems from a confusion surrounding the Slavin Doctrine, which states that contractors can be held liable for latent defects but not patent defects.

"A patent defect is one that you can see with your eyes," Fort Lauderdale attorney and general contractor Gregg Schlesinger told Construction Dive.

Common examples of patent defects include broken doors, improperly installed window latches, and other defects obvious to a layperson. According to the Slavin Doctrine, once a property owner accepts these defects, the contractor is no longer considered liable for any future third-party injuries.

On the other hand, latent defects are “hidden or not easily detectable,” Schlesinger explained. Contractors can be held liable for latent defects, as a layperson would not even know they exist and, therefore, could not accept them. A good example of a latent defect is when a contractor fails to pour concrete to the correct strength.

The Miami Herald recently reported that latent defects were present at Champlain Towers South. First and foremost, there was not enough structural lateral support because of the extensive underground parking garage; to compound on the problem, there was also too much rebar (reinforcing steel) in the condo’s concrete columns. These are classic latent defects that could have been avoided.

Many of the lawsuits over the Surfside condo collapse have been filed against the 12-story building’s condo association, as reported by Construction Dive. Now that latent defects have been uncovered at Champlain Towers South, contractors who worked on it may also face a wave of lawsuits in the days and months to come.

Have you been impacted by the Surfside condo collapse? Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A. will represent you. Find out if you qualify for compensation—call our Fort Lauderdale attorneys at (954) 467-8800 or reach us online. Your consultation is free!

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