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ARTICLE ID 191596

$________ Construction Contract – Plaintiff owners of mixed use two-story building contend that renovation work done at Liquor Store at tenant’s request is performed negligently, causing property damage and near collapse of building.

Hudson County, NJ

The plaintiff landlord, who consented to allowing the defendant commercial tenant to undertake certain renovations at the subject premises, contended that the work was negligently performed by the defendant contractor and that the architect negligently provided deficient plans, supervision and instructions concerning the project, that the defendant contractor did its work in a negligent fashion and that the defendant tenant was liable pursuant to the indemnity provisions of the lease and were negligent in hiring, supervising and correcting the defects. The plaintiff maintained that some three years after the renovations were completed, it was discovered that the work caused substantial damage to the entire building, as a second floor apartment’s floors, walls and ceilings began to sag and resulted in an 8” to 11” deflection and cracking.

After being advised by one of plaintiffs’ residential tenants of severely sagging walls and floors, the plaintiff called the contractor who said, “Don’t worry I will fix the problems.” The project architect also called plaintiffs and left a recorded phone message: “I am returning your phone call to tell you that I spoke with the contractor and he told me that the beam will be installed this Sunday or next one.” However, the remedial work stopped after two wooden columns were placed through the liquor store’s drop ceiling and they currently remain in place. A steel beam was fabricated and delivered, but never installed. The plaintiff contended that the defendant tenant would not let the repairs proceed because the defendants could not agree who would pay for the cost of designs, labor and materials.

The architectural plans showed an existing wall to be removed, but provided no structural provisions in order to support the remaining existing framing. Due to the unsupported second floor framing, the floor above has a slope of more than eight inches ten feet which is a 6/6% pitch. This sagging of the bedroom floor triggered adjacent interior and exterior wall settling, wall base and trim movement, cracked ceilings, jammed egress windows and doors, brick veneer and steel lintel dislocation and misalignment of roofing, flashing and waterproofing.

The lease included an indemnification and hold harmless clause making defendant tenants responsible for the damages caused by their use of the premises, including the construction. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant tenant was liable to plaintiffs with respect to the renovations because the work was done in a negligent fashion under tenant’s complete lack of supervision and the negligent hiring of an architect and contractor by the tenant.

The plaintiffs’ expert architect maintained that the architect’s plans reflected that a load bearing wall was not identified as such and was not taken into consideration or replaced. The defendant architects’ expert maintained that the damage was the result of the faulty work that was performed by the general contractor on the first floor of the building, and his failure to comply with the information that was included on the architects’ plans.

The contractor contended that it properly followed the plans. The contractor’s expert admitted that a steel beam is required to be installed where a lower bearing wall originally had been located, which was evident by a 4 X 4 top plate of the removed bearing wall that still remains. The contractor’s expert also agreed with plaintiffs’ expert that defendant architect’s professional malpractice was a cause of the plaintiffs’ extensive damages. Likewise, the expert for the tenant defendant opined that the defendant architect was “reckless” and the direct cause of the subject loss.

The plaintiffs relied upon the doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur and sought judgment, jointly and severally, against all defendants as the plaintiffs suffered damages due to the defendants’ concurrent negligence which produced unitary harm. The plaintiffs’ insurer denied first-party coverage because there was no occurrence and the property damage was caused by “negligent work”. The plaintiffs’ claimed damages for repairs and corrective construction of $________.The case settled prior to trial for $________, including $________ from the architect, $________ from the tenant and $________ from the contractor.

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