My friend’s neighborhood is falling. Really…sinkholes are starting to swallow portions of an otherwise picturesque community. Lest you think Mother Nature is at work, think again. When these holes open up and you peek inside, old construction debris winks back at you. Twenty years ago, contractors that built this community had the awesome idea to bury their construction trash in the front yards and playgrounds they were building. This saved them money since they then didn’t need to pay for waste container rentals or waste hauling fees. But a funny thing happened to this debris buried for twenty years underground. Because much of the debris is organic matter, it began decomposing. This, in turn, created underground movement and the topsoil caved in. Man made sinkholes were born—all over a community of 1300 homes.
My friend wondered whether anything could be done to the contractors who chose to negligently construct a whole community by hiding trash so homeowners could clean it up later decades later. My firm handles property damage claims across the country, so I agreed to look into it. The state’s law concerning negligence and its damages looked pretty fair…until I read the state’s tort law for property damages.
What I found was a bonanza for bad builders. You see, the state has decided that negligently constructed buildings need only last four years. In Georgia, If you don’t find any problems within four years of your home’s substantial completion, and then you discover in year five that an unsophisticated or unscrupulous builder installed faulty wiring inside the walls and the wiring burned your house to the ground, well, sorry, the law protects the builder from paying for his mistakes. The law unreasonably says you took too long to find the faulty stuff he hid from you.
In legal terms, Georgia doesn’t recognize a discovery rule for property damage. Why wouldn’t Georgia want such a discovery rule? In a country that stresses home ownership, it clearly doesn’t help homeowners. But it sure cuts down on the lawsuits that Georgia home builders face. Of course, this law also greatly increases the likelihood that the following conversation or something like it takes place on Georgia’s construction sites:
Young worker: “Boss, how good does this wall need to be?”
Boss: “What? C’mon, you know… just so it lasts.”
Young worker: Scratches his head, then replies: “Uh, but how long is that?”
Boss: Laughs and slyly says: “Man, this is Georgia…four years is all it has to last!”
Sadly, car warranties can lasts longer than Georgia law expects home builders to stand behind their workmanship.