Ohio Court: Builders Must Construct Homes in ‘Workmanlike Manner’

March 16, 2012

Ohio’s high court has held that home builders have a duty imposed by law to construct a home “in a workmanlike manner using ordinary care,” despite the wording of any warranty document.

The Supreme Court of Ohio held unanimously that a home buyer’s right to enforce that duty cannot be waived, according to information released by the court.

The court ruled in a case originating in Franklin County that two couples who purchased new houses from Centex Homes were not barred from asserting claims against Centex for an alleged failure of workmanlike construction, despite the fact that their claims were based on a defect that was not listed as a covered item in a limited warranty that was part of their purchase agreements with Centex.

The court’s 7-0 decision, authored by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, reversed a ruling by the Tenth District Court of Appeals.

The couples, Eric and Ginger Estep, and Paul Jones and Latosha Sanders, purchased new homes from Centex in 2004. After moving in, both couples found that their computers, cordless telephones and televisions did not operate properly. They alleged that the problems were caused by steel beams used in the construction of their houses that were magnetized, and sought remediation of the problem by Centex.

When the problem was not resolved, both couples filed suit against Centex in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranty, negligence, and failure to perform in a workmanlike manner. Because the suits asserted virtually identical claims against the same defendant, they were consolidated.

Centex moved for summary judgment, arguing that in both cases the buyers had waived all express or implied warranties except for a specific list of covered defects enumerated in a Limited Home Warranty that Centex provided in its standard purchase agreement.

The trial court agreed that the buyers had waived their right to any express or implied warranty outside the provisions of the limited warranty, including the right to demand workmanlike performance by Centex. Since the magnetizing of steel members was not among the defects included in the Centex limited warranty, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the builder.

On review, the Tenth District affirmed the decision of trial court.

The home buyers sought and were granted Supreme Court review of the Tenth District’s ruling.

The Ohio Supreme Court did not address the merits of the owners’ underlying claims against Centex, but reversed the lower courts’ rulings that by agreeing to the Centex limited warranty the home owners had waived their common law right to assert claims based on failure of workmanlike performance, and remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of those claims.

Justice Pfeifer wrote that the duty to construct a house in a workmanlike manner using ordinary care has been imposed on Ohio home builders since the Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Mitchem v. Johnson.

Justice Pfeifer’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Yvette McGee Brown. Justice Robert R. Cupp concurred in judgment only.

The case is: 2010-1826. Jones v. Centex Homes, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-1001. Franklin App. Nos. 09AP-1032 and 09AP-1033, 189 Ohio App.3d 668, 2010-Ohio-4268.

Source: Ohio Supreme Court

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