A Warning to Architects & Builders About Design Changes

Georgia Construction Contract Attorney

by Mark A. Cobb

Our construction law colleagues at Kaplin Stewart maintain a very good Pennsylvania construction law blog, and a recent posting by them gives a very important warning to architects, engineers and builders who consider cutting corners to save money.  Apparently, an owner/designer of luxury house in Hollywood Hills, California has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after his house caught fire resulting in the death of a firefighter.  The builder’s negligent construction technique has been alleged as the proximate cause of the fireman’s tragic  death.

The home’s owner, who was also the designer and general contractor, was building the California house in order to shoot the television show “Germany’s Next Top Model”.  During the building process, however, he apparently (i) lied about his intentions to install fireplaces in his new home and, subsequently, (ii) used fireplaces designed exclusively for exterior use for his interior.  The misappropriated fireplaces, consequently, caused the fire, and, tragically, a fireman was killed trying to put out the inferno.

Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that “grossly negligent construction” led to the fire and the firefighter’s death.  Thus, they decided to prosecute the builder/owner.

The warnings conjured by these events are obvious, but they bear repeating.

First, defective construction can harm and even kill innocent people.  In this case, a brave firefighter’s life was lost unnecessarily, and this loss, no doubt, impacts the firefighter’s family and friends tremendously.  There are too many similar scenarios where defective building techniques have lead to collapses, cave-ins, fires, floods, and other calamities.

Second, efforts to cut-corners and save money at the beginning of a project frequently result in significant damages down the road.  In this case, the property has been destroyed, the shooting location of the tv series has been changed, and, the owner/builder faces serious criminal charges and the incumbent attorneys fees surrounding his defense.  In addition, the owner may face civil damages in the event that the fireman’s family pursues their own claim against him.

Third, products have individual and specific uses.  Do not misuse your construction materials.  Do not skimp on quality or quantity if you want to have a building with integrity.

Fourth, do not lie or mislead building inspectors.  Although many people quickly tire of government involvement and fees, the inspector’s job is ultimately to ensure safety and quality.  This is particularly important in historic states like Georgia.  We have many historic houses from the antebellum and Victorian eras, and, thankfully, there are many Georgia communities where these architectural treasures are cherished and restored.  There are times, however, when an inspector’s goal and a preservationist’s goal differ, and an inspector might be shown an allegedly completed project which, subsequently, gets changed after the inspector’s departure.  Be careful!  And, know that you might be liable for these subsequent alterations.

Please, build safely and responsibly.

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