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Supreme Court of Oregon Affirms Decision in Abraham v. T. Henry Construction, et al.

April 20, 2011 — April 20, 2011 Beverley BevenFlorez - Construction Defect Journal

After reviewing the decision in Abraham v. T. Henry Construction, et al., the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that a tort claim for property damage arising from construction defects may exist even when the homeowner and the builder are in a contractual relationship.

When the case was initially filed, the plaintiffs alleged breach of contract and negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that one, the claim was barred by the six-year statute of limitations and two, no special relationship (such as one between a doctor and patient) existed. The court agreed with the defendants. However, the Court of Appeals while affirming the trial court’s decision on breach of contract reversed the decision on negligence. The Court of Appeals stated that an administrative or statute rule could establish a standard of care independent from the contract.

The Oregon Supreme Court gave an example of cases where a tort claim could exist when a contract is present: “If an individual and a contractor enter into a contract to build a house, which provides that the contractor will install only copper pipe, but the contractor installs PVC pipe instead (assuming both kinds of pipe comply with the building code and the use of either would be consistent with the standard of care expected of contractors), that failure would be a breach of contract only. […] If the failure to install the copper pipe caused a reduction in the value of the house, the plaintiff would be able to recover that amount in an action for breach of contract. […] On the other hand, if the contractor installed the PVC pipe in a defective manner and those pipes therefore leaked, causing property damage to the house, the homeowner would have claims in both contract and tort. […] In those circumstances, the obligation to install copper instead of PVC pipe is purely contractual; the manner of installing the pipe, however, implicates both contract and tort because of the foreseeable risk of property damage that can result from improperly installed pipes.”

Read the court’s decision…

Supreme Court of Oregon Affirms Decision in Abraham v. T. Henry Construction, et al.