The Ohio Supreme Court recently determined that builders have a duty to construct homes and other buildings in a workmanlike manner. This means that the builder must use ordinary care in all aspects of the project. In essence, a builder can be liable for defects in a home if the builder was negligent in the methods that the builder used in construction. This case can be hailed as a decision that favors the consumer over the building industry.
Most builders provide a limited warranty when they construct a new structure. The limited warranty spells out what defects are covered if the buyer makes a claim that the building is unsatisfactory. Prior to this recent case, builders were able to argue that if the building problem was not covered in the limited warranty, then the builder did not have to fix it. The limited warranty was a way in which a builder could carefully define what problems would be fixed and for how long.
In the recent case, Jones v. Centex Homes, the buyers signed a contract that they would waive all remedies except those specifically covered under the limited warranty. After occupying the home, the buyers found that computers, cordless telephones, and televisions did not operate properly. The culprit was apparently that the metal joists in the house were magnetized.
The builder was unable to fix the problem. The builder also claimed that this type of problem was not covered by the limited warranty and that the buyers had signed a contract that limited their remedies to those offered under the limited warranty. Both the trial court and the court of appeals agreed with the builder and found that the buyers could not recover against the builder for this problem.
The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed. The state's highest court said that every builder has a duty to construct a home in a workmanlike manner. If other builders routinely constructed without causing a particular problem, then any builder will be held responsible if he or she does not meet this standard. The court also said that buyers cannot waive their right to have the home built in a workmanlike manner. This means that buyers cannot "sign away" their rights.
This decision is a welcome departure from the court's normally pro-business and pro-insurance decisions. Perhaps in this context, the justices saw that the home buyers did nothing wrong. It seems likely that the justices could also see how such a predicament could happen to anyone, including themselves. The buyers had a reasonable expectation that their home should not have defects that would cause computers, televisions, and cordless phones to malfunction. The court's decision comports with common sense.