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Who is Responsible for Construction Defects?

Construction projects always come with risks and when things go awry, it often leads to disputes.  Some of the most expensive issues related to construction are construction defects. Determining who is responsible for the defect can be a long legal battle with many possible outcomes. Having a construction defect lawyer on your side to defend your interests from the start is key to limiting your liability.

What are Construction Defects?

Construction defects are problems in a building’s structure or design.  They can be minor aesthetic issues that break a contract by not following the plan specifications or major structural issues that can lead to property damage and injuries.  They’re typically divided into three categories: design defects, material defects, and workmanship defects.

Design defects are related to an inherent flaw in the design specifications such as miscalculating the width of a room or underestimating the electrical capacity necessary to power a specific area.  Material defects are related to problems with the materials that are used in the construction project such as using substandard drywall or toxic paint.  Workmanship defects are related to incorrectly building a structure by deviating from plan specifications, violating codes, or simply doing something incorrectly due to a lack of skill.

All of these defects can result in delays and increased labor and material costs.  The change in schedule can also cause troubles with financing for the property owner and delay other jobs for the contractors.  Furthermore, if someone is injured due to a construction defect, even years later, the problem can come back to haunt all parties involved. These many additional costs often result in disputes over who is responsible for the defects.

Construction projects typically involve many different parties.  When a defect occurs, one or multiple parties can be held responsible. Let’s go over some scenarios:

Property Owners

Property owners can be held responsible if an injury occurs on their property, even if it’s due to a construction defect. Property owners are also usually responsible for the costs associated with change orders or if they have to delay the work of another contractor or subcontractor that was scheduled to be done.  However, if the injury, changes, or delays are the result of a defect, the property owner will likely make a claim against the party responsible for the defect in order to pass the costs on to them.

Architects and Designers

Architects and designers can be held responsible for design defects, but not construction defects.  If they create a defective design blueprint for any part of the structure that later causes problems, they could be held liable for all of the costs associated with fixing the defect as well as fixing the other problems caused by the defect.  If they specify a specific material in their designs and it is incorrect, they may also face liability for a material defect.

Contractors and Subcontractors

These folks will likely get the blame for construction defects or material defects.  If something isn’t up to code or they don’t follow the design plan precisely, contractors will be held responsible for the defects.  If they choose the materials they use, they can also be responsible for material defects.  These contractors will often try to pass on the blame to their subcontractors who may try to pass on the liability to other subcontractors.  This can result in a lot of different lawsuits going on at once which is why hiring a construction defect lawyer to advise you is key.


While not as common as the other possibilities listed above, manufacturers can be held responsible if the material they make is substandard or defective.  If the product is not installed improperly and is actually problematic, this is a way for contractors to recoup their losses for claims against them.

Keep in Mind

None of these parties are guaranteed to be held liable for construction defect claims. In fact, many times the blame falls on multiple parties and the costs are divvied up according to percentage of responsibility.  The way your construction contract is laid out will determine who is held liable in each situation, or it will provide a path for resolving disputes if liability is unclear.

Obtaining a construction lawyer to help you negotiate your contracts and protect your interests is the most important thing you can do to limit your liability if a construction defect does occur. They can also stand up for your interests if someone makes a claim against you.

Don’t get stuck with the blame: contact an experienced attorney to discuss your options.