What Homeowners Can Expect in a Product Defect Case
How long it takes and how the compensation works in home construction lawsuits
on September 21, 2021
Updated on February 22, 2022
If you have a problem with your house—be it defective or improperly installed windows, shingles, decking, siding, appliances, or so on—you often need to resolve it as soon as possible to avoid further problems. Unfortunately, lawsuits of this type can take a while to resolve, which is frustrating for homeowners and the attorneys who help them.
“It’s not like a microwave where you just put that aside and use a different one,” says Harper Segui, a class action attorney at Milberg in Mount Pleasant. “If you have a roof leak, how do you repair that so it prevents further damage but at the same time make sure that the evidence is preserved so the defendant can see it in the future? Sitting tight and letting the process play through is a lot harder in building products cases than it is really with anything else.”
Despite the incongruous timeline, finding knowledgeable help to guide you through this process can save you significant headaches, Segui notes. “The best thing to understand is you’re in capable hands because the plaintiff’s lawyer who’s properly investigating this has an expert involved from day one and that expert is going to be able to provide guidance.” This includes how to protect your home from emergencies such as impending storms, she adds.
How Long Will a Product Liability Case Take?
When someone calls Segui with a product liability claim, she typically sends an engineering expert to evaluate and test the defect in question. “For example, if someone says their window is leaking, that could be from two different things, right? It could be from installation errors or it can be from the product itself. So your expert would go in and water-test the window and you would find out whether the water’s coming in from around the perimeter of the window, which would be an installation issue, or if it was coming in through the window, which you then know is a product defect.”
The investigations can also go further, she adds. “We try to have our expert look at as many products as we can, so they know that this is a true design defect rather than a one-off manufacturing batch.” If what they find points to a defective product, it sometimes impacts hundreds of people or more and, as a result, leads to a class action lawsuit or multi-district litigation.
As to how long it takes for a case to resolve, Segui says, “It depends on how hard and how long the defendant’s going to fight, and if the judge is really pushing things through. … We have a judge in South Carolina who has a saying: ‘The first year is for you, the second year is for us, and the third year is for me.’”
How Is Compensation Decided?
Often such cases settle out of court, but the details of the terms are complicated when they apply to hundreds of people with different circumstances.
“Typically it’s replacement product or compensation, then potentially additional compensation for consequential damages or reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses for prior repairs,” Segui says. “Then you have to take into account that your settlement is covering everyone in the country. So there’s different costs of construction, repair, replacement, and things like that.”
For example, Segui handled a fiber cement siding case with homeowners getting several thousands of dollars. “The way we set up the structure, the defendant was concerned that people would just get a large cash amount and then not use it to actually replace their siding. So we had three different options for compensation,” she says.
Replacing the consumer product is commonly built into the settlement terms, but if you don’t trust the product manufacturer anymore (since they already burned you), “you could get compensation to then use to repair or replace it towards any other manufacturer,” Segui says.
Another component is reimbursement for prior repairs. “A lot of times that’s problematic because of the amount of documentation you have to show in order to get reimbursed,” Segui says. “So I would say for someone who knows that there is pending class litigation and there may be a future settlement but doesn’t want to wait for that to be resolved before they repair or replace, to really document the repair and replacement. Have somebody who’s qualified come in and write up the reason why and preserve some of that product.”
Another aspect of a settlement can be damages that occurred as a consequence of the faulty product or installation, and this will usually have a cap. “So, if you can show that there was water damage to other components of your home because of the product itself, usually you can get up to a certain amount of money,” she adds.
One thing you shouldn’t expect in terms of compensation, however, is lost home value. “When people sell their house and they come to us to say, ‘I had to take less money on the house because of this product,’ it’s almost impossible to get reimbursed for that,” Segui says. “Real estate transactions are so complicated, and home inspectors usually identify a bunch of other issues, so boiling that down to one particular product as being the consequence of that loss of profit is really difficult.”
For an idea of what you need to prove your type of claim, see our article on that very topic.