This case involves a construction company that purchased a partially built house. The president of the construction company personally installed the water line to the house and then sold the home as complete to a homeowner. The sale contract included a 1-year express warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. When the homeowner received a much higher than average water bill, he initially thought this was due to lawn care in the springtime months. The homeowner’s next water bill even higher and he looked for evidence of a leak above the ground. When he did not find a leak, he contacted the construction company. The construction company dug up the water line and discovered that the main water line had separated from a coupling due to corrosion, creating a gap through which water was escaping. The water went underneath the foundation slab of the house and caused heaving, which resulted in cracks in the walls and uneven doors. The homeowner sued the president of the construction company for negligence claiming that he had negligently installed the plumbing.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Can a homeowner sue the president of a construction company for negligence if the president personally installed the plumbing for a house and the main water line separated from a coupling and caused damage to the house?
Expert Witness Response
In most cases, a plumber has a legal duty to a homeowner—independent of any contract with the homeowner—to perform plumbing services without causing economic injury to the homeowner. This is called the “economic loss doctrine.” In a case like this, where an individual plumber has undertaken the work as a plumber (independent of his role as the president of the construction company that sold the house), he is liable for damages caused by faulty installation of the plumbing because he owes a legal duty of care to the homeowner to properly install the plumbing. The reason behind this duty is that the warranty in the sale contract may not be sufficient to protect the homeowner because many home defects are not discoverable until after the warranty period has expired. The president of the construction company in this case was negligent because the pipe separation and water leak caused the homeowner to suffer economic damage and this damage could have reasonably been foreseen by the plumber since he failed to properly install the plumbing in the house. Since the president of the construction company owed a duty to the homeowner, he should have taken steps to prevent the pipe separation. In this case, he should have used harnessed couplings or used rigid couplings that would have secured the pipes and prevented any separation or movement.