Sue My Builder
"... you may be a homeowner that’s been violated by a bad builder and your first instinct is to extract justice using the legal system."
Sue My Builder Checklist
- Ask your attorney the right questions in one hour or less
- Most builders have no money to get
- Determine what it costs to prosecute a lawsuit
- Expert witnesses carry the day - always
Sue My Builder - Take a Deep Breath First
Yesterday I did a 20-minute phone consult call with a gentleman who lives in New Jersey. It was a grim phone call because he was thinking about filing a lawsuit against his builder.
A year ago this man had me call him numerous times to go over details as he started to build his dream home. Unfortunately, he began our relationship a few months after he had signed a contract with a dishonest builder. At the time he signed the contract, the man didn't suspect the builder was unscrupulous.
Expert Witness Experience is Sobering
I’ve done expert testimony in building defect lawsuits for nearly twenty years. My most recent case had me crawling all over the roof of the Brazilian Ambassador’s home in Antigua.
My expert witness experience can help save you lots of money and anguish. I'm not trying to solicit business from you even though you may be a homeowner that’s been violated by a bad builder and your first instinct is to extract justice using the legal system.
I’ll share what’s involved based on years of winning cases for all my clients and then, more importantly, I’ll offer advice on how to avoid legal snafus that can suck the life force out of you as well as drain your savings account.
It’s important to realize that I’m not an attorney nor am I offering you legal advice. I’m simply sharing what happens should you decide to jump into the fray at your county courthouse.
What is the Legal Process Timeline?
Here’s a very condensed timeline of what usually happens. The process could vary in your state depending on your laws. The first step is for you to meet with an attorney to discuss what happened. She or he may then advise you to file a claim or suit against your builder.
The next phase of the process involves fact-finding. Sometimes it’s referred to as discovery. Both parties to the lawsuit might submit questions to the other side and ask for documents and other paperwork that relate to the facts.
Experts are then hired to produce a report about what they see and what might actually be wrong. The best experts look more for building code violations than subjective quality issues. It’s also a good idea to see if products were installed exactly as the manufacturer states in their written instructions.
Once the expert reports are submitted, then depositions might take place. The attorneys, in the presence of a court reporter or stenographer, ask questions of the parties, witnesses, experts, etc. under oath. This testimony can and will be used in a courtroom should you take the issue that far.
What are the Typical Hourly Rates?
All of the above requires countless hours, much of it billed at an hourly rate in excess of $175 or $200 per hour. Costs can shoot up faster than a Fourth of July bottle rocket.
Do Expert Witnesses Determine the Outcome?
Yes, your expert witness(s) often carries the day.
At this juncture, the attorneys, who typically are devoid of personal involvement in your case, start to reach out to one another to see if a settlement can be reached. The expert reports are often like a winning hand at the $500 blackjack casino table.
If your expert has pages of proof that your builder really goofed up, then the builder usually folds.
Very few lawsuits actually go to trial.
What Happens After the Trial?
However, let’s assume you decide not to settle. You want your day in court. The costs continue to mount. Realize there’s no guarantee you’ll win. Even if you do win, in almost all states you don’t get any money that day. You’ll probably be granted a judgment against the builder. You then have to spend more money to try to get the money called for in the judgment. Realize the builder may not have any money to get.
My advice to you, should you be filled with reprisal, is to meet with your attorney and ask all the right questions in less than an hour. Forget about the builder and just ask all the questions about what it might cost to stroll down the legal pathway, how long it will take, what does the typical settlement look like, and what are the chances of getting any money from the builder. Gather the hard data and determine if you should just lick your wounds and spend the money you’d give to your attorney and experts on repairing the defects in your new home.
How Do You Avoid Legal Issues?
You can avoid misery like this with great plans and specifications. Listen to this very short podcast of mine about what makes for great house plans:
You also need itemized bids from your builder so you know how much everything costs. This allows you to only give as much money to the builder as he deserves as the project unfolds. Always have enough money to finish the project should things go south.
A professional builder that’s well capitalized will rarely object to getting paid within 30 days for work he’s completed. He knows he’s going to satisfy you. He’s got charge accounts and he doesn’t pay his workers or subs in advance.
Dishonest or under-capitalized builders tend to want money in advance and they can get ahead of you should you give them too much money as did the homeowner in New Jersey. He’s going to spend an additional $70,000 to fix all the mistakes and unfinished work. Don’t let this happen to you.