Legislation permitting claims against contractors for negligent construction passes Senate

Senate Bill 6385

March 7, 2008

Until now, homeowners have only been able to sue their contractors for defective construction under expressed or implied warranties agreed to in their contract.  Mercer Island Senator, Brian Weinstein, however, is hoping to change that.  He is sponsoring senate bill 6385 which, if passed, would allow homeowners to sue their contractor for negligent construction.

SB 6385 is significant since Washington has never before provided recovery in tort for defective construction.  While many other states, including Oregon, have provided for negligent construction claims, Washington has been hesitant to do so.  The concern is that, unlike manufacturers in the product liability setting, contractors cannot easily predict these sorts of liability risks prior to commencing work.  Because every construction job is different, the contractor cannot easily evaluate the magnitude of the risk involved.  Regardless, contractors will be forced to guess at these risks, and the effect will be increased housing costs.

Critics feel that the new law is, therefore, too extreme in its expansion of legal liability for contractors.  Opponents of SB 6385 are concerned that the new bill will have the greatest impact on smaller contractors and non-profit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, whose work is essential to a healthy building industry.  Proponents of SB 6385, on the other hand, feel that contractors should provide quality work to begin with and the new law only reinforces that fact and will only affect contractors who perform carelessly and provide a shoddy product.

On February 1, 2008, SB 6385 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 27 to 20 and was passed to the House Judiciary Committee, who voted on February 28th to pass the bill with amendments.  SB 6385 is currently with the House Rules Committee for a second reading and, if passed on to the House floor in the next couple days, will likely become law.  If the House fails to act soon, however, the bill will once again die, as it did last year.

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