• Welcome to the new and improved Building Code Forum. We appreciate you being here and hope that you are getting the information that you need concerning all codes of the building trades. This is a free forum to the public due to the generosity of the Sawhorses, Corporate Supporters and Supporters who have upgraded their accounts. If you would like to have improved access to the forum please upgrade to Sawhorse by first logging in then clicking here: Upgrades

Expanded Liability for Pennsylvania Contractors: The Brown v. City of Oil City Case

jar546

Forum Coordinator
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
11,447
Location
Somewhere Too Hot & Humid

Expanded Liability for Pennsylvania Contractors: The Brown v. City of Oil City Case​

On April 10, 2023, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case of Brown v. City of Oil City, significantly expanding the potential liability of contractors for defective work. This decision stems from a tragic incident where a woman died after tripping on deteriorated steps at the Oil City public library. Despite the city being aware of the defects and notifying the contractor, no repairs were made, and the public was not warned.

Court Ruling Details​

The Supreme Court ruled that contractors could be held liable for injuries caused by their defective work, even years after the project has been completed and accepted by the property owner. This ruling applies to both latent (hidden) and obvious defects, broadening the scope of contractor liability significantly. Previously, once the property owner accepted the work, contractors generally believed they were no longer liable, especially if the defects were known and obvious to the owner.

Implications for Contractors​

  1. Increased Risk of Litigation: Contractors in Pennsylvania now face greater risk of being sued not only by property owners but also by third parties who suffer injuries due to defects in their work. This expanded liability means that contractors must be more vigilant about the quality and durability of their work.
  2. Insurance and Contractual Changes: To manage this increased liability, contractors need to review their insurance policies and ensure they have comprehensive coverage. Additionally, contractors should consider renegotiating their contracts to include specific terms related to indemnity and risk allocation.
  3. Proactive Risk Management: Contractors must adopt proactive measures to mitigate risks, such as:
    • Timely response to defect reports.
    • Offering to repair or remediate defective work promptly.
    • Posting warnings about known dangers.
    • Implementing stringent quality control procedures.

Broader Legal Context​

This ruling aligns Pennsylvania with states like New Jersey and Alabama, which also impose broad liability on contractors for defective work. In these states, contractors can be held responsible for injuries caused by their work long after the project’s completion, regardless of the property owner’s knowledge of the defects.

Strategic Actions for Contractors​

Contractors should take the following actions to protect themselves:
  • Detailed Contract Terms: Include comprehensive terms in contracts, specifying the scope of work, procedures for addressing defects, and indemnity clauses to protect against third-party claims.
  • Thorough Documentation: Maintain meticulous records of all communications with property owners regarding defects and repairs. This documentation can be crucial in defending against future claims.

In Summary​

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. City of Oil City represents a significant shift in contractor liability law, emphasizing the need for contractors to ensure the quality and safety of their work. By understanding the expanded liability and taking proactive steps, contractors can better protect themselves from potential lawsuits and comply with the new legal standards (Saxton & Stump) (Barley Snyder).
 
This decision stems from a tragic incident where a woman died after tripping on deteriorated steps at the Oil City public library. Despite the city being aware of the defects and notifying the contractor, no repairs were made, and the public was not warned.
That must be an oversimplification. A contractor's warranty covers defective material and construction defects however it seems impossible to make contractors liable for a lack of maintenance by an owner. Even if the damaged steps were the responsibility of the contractor, safety rests with the owner. Allowing the continued use of the steps places the contractor in further peril not of his own making.
 
This is similar to our province. Limitation of Actions Act caps tortuous liability at 15 years from the date the action that caused the action occurred, or 2 years from where it was or should to have been discovered (whichever happens first).

This is important for contractors to understand as the demand for them to come back and repair deficient or defective work stretches well beyond the typical warranty period.

I also wonder if the general public understand this. There are a lot of people around here who want to be able to be their own general contractors when building their home to "save money" (I don't think a single one -outside of those in the industry- saved money). They are personally liable for any issues for the next 15 years for that project.

People are frequently surprised when I say I would never consider being my own general contractor to build a house. I think people are insane for even considering it.
 
Top