In construction defect lawsuits, third-party (or fourth-party) claims are routine to flow-down liability downstream. Right, a general contractor sued by an owner will want to flow-down its liability to the subcontractors. And, subcontractors will want to flow down their liability to sub-subcontractors and suppliers. Common, and appropriate, flow-down claims are indemnification and contribution claims.
In an appellate opinion with little factual discussion, Gozzo Development, Inc. v. Esker, 2016 WL 2908442 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of subcontractors dismissing the contractor’s indemnification and contribution claims. The owner sued the contractor for a violation of building code (and corresponding defects and damage) and the contractor, in turn, sued subcontractors for indemnification and contribution. The contractor was seeking indemnity for the statutory building code violations as well as contractual breaches that caused the construction defects and damage.
On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the trial court’s summary judgment as to the indemnification claim, but affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the contribution claim (as Florida abolished joint and several liability in negligence-based actions):
Further, as appellant [contractor] sought indemnity for violations of both statutory and non-statutory building standards, it was error to grant summary judgment on the indemnity claim under a provision that applies only to statutory liability. The statutory building code does not preclude liability for violating a contractual duty to adhere to local building standards.
However, we affirm the trial court’s summary judgment on the contribution claim, as appellant’s right to contribution had not arisen by the effective date of the revised statute barring joint and several liability.
Gozzo Development, 2016 WL at *1.
It is important to understand the manner in which liability is flowed downstream (passed-through) in construction defect lawsuits. It is generally this reason why construction defect lawsuits contain many parties, from the general contractor hired by the owner to the subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and suppliers implicated by the defective work. These articles on indemnification (common law and contractual) and contribution explain these very important flow-down claims in more detail.
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