Negligent construction bill dies in House of Representatives

Construction contractors across Washington State should celebrate, for now.  Senate Bill 6385, which would have allowed homeowners to sue their contractor for negligent construction, officially died in the House Rules Committee last week, only a routine reading away from reaching the House floor for debate and potential approval.

The Bill was allegedly held up by House Speaker and Rules Committee Chairman, Frank Chopp, an opponent of the proposed legislation.  Some proponents of the Bill claim that Chopp did so intentionally, in an effort to thwart the Bill’s likely approval on the House floor.  Nevertheless, the Bill’s sponsor, Mercer Island Senator Brian Weinstein, remains optimistic and plans to re-introduce the Bill for a third time during next year’s legislative session.

Weinstein also issued a statement last Wednesday offering to compromise with Chopp with regard to SB 6385.  Weinstein is willing to agree, with some minor caveats, to Chopp’s three-point proposal, which would create a new state regulatory agency for contractors, set up a task force to look at construction issues, and make more stringent contractor licensing requirements, if Chopp would support a modified version of SB 6385.  This modified version would give homeowners, after giving the builder notice and an opportunity to cure the defect, the right to sue a builder in tort who has violated the building codes.

Had Senate Bill 6385 passed, it would have allowed homeowners to sue their contractor for negligent construction, a cause of action which the Washington courts have never recognized.  Such a change in the law would have significantly impacted the building industry as a whole, likely increasing the cost of contactors’ liability insurance and, thus, the cost of housing.

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