This years West Coast Casualty Conference was well attended. Much valuable information was shared, not the least of which is that both sides in the construction defect arena believe that there will be more arbitration and less litigation in our future.
We heard from attorneys and judges from across the country. Here in California, county courts, with the exception of Orange County, are totally bogged down and that cases are going to take 5 years or more to litigate in the future. San Diego has “only one” construction defect judge, Judge Styn, to handle 260 active cases; plus he does other work/cases. Yet Orange County has three judges and room for more CD cases; OC is the only county in California that’s open for business.
We’re now in the full SB800 world as the law was passed 10 years ago; all CD cases now under SB800. Indeed, there is now a lot of litigation surrounding SB 800.
Many attorneys agreed that the lower statutes were working; meaning that there was less litigation wherein everything but the kitchen sink was thrown in. While the attorneys and judges were seeing fewer (smaller) developers willing to make repairs, most of the larger developers were taking full advantage of SB800 and making repairs and making SB800 work.
Future trends were also discussed. Key among them was the fact that the builder and subcontractor/trade contractor labor pool has been decimated. Most feel that this paucity of “skilled and experienced” workers will lead to more CD cases in the future. Many plaintiff attorney speakers stated that we still have the same number of CD cases with many more coming. On the other hand Steve Henning, a defense attorney, said that SB 800’s impact is a 25% to 55% reduction in CD cases. He said that SB 800 reduces the number of homes in a complaint and that there are now less issues and less plaintiff attorneys. Another current trend is that SB 800 repair contractors are now being sued too. The hottest CD markets are:
- East Coast
- Northern California
Another current hot issue is the Green building product liability law is leading to more lawsuits.
And don’t forget we have more product-based class actions: Chinese drywall; HVAC; Yellow Brass; Swiggle Seal. A team of attorneys representing CBIA (George Dale, Nick Camaretta, Mike Stretch and Tom Ingram) discussed the history and current take on the effectiveness of SB 800. Their conclusion was that SB 800 has led to less litigation and more insurance carriers entering the California insurance market.
When asked if he thought SB 800 a success Ken Kasdan said no, it was a failure. Does that mean that it’s a success for builders?