Oct 242004
 
Authors: Ben Bleckley

Human nature often tells us to root for the little guy. But

sometimes it’s a good thing the little guy is so little.

Amendment 34 is a ballot issue this year that would allow home

owners and companies alike to sue contractors for shoddy

construction work. Of course construction companies are pouring

thousands of dollars into an ad campaign to stop this amendment

from passing. They even have a Web site, cleverly named

www.don’tletthemsueyou.com.

To the common citizen, this amendment sounds perfectly

legitimate. Unless you consider that Colorado law already allows us

to sue contractors for poor construction.

House Bill 1161 was passed last year and states that if

defective construction is found in a property, the contractor and

owner will have 75 days (residential) or 90 days (commercial) to

reach an agreement.

After that, the owner can sue the contractor and, if he or she

wins, will be reimbursed for the lesser of three amounts: the value

of the property with the defect, the cost to replace the property

or the cost to repair the defect. In addition, up to $250,000 can

be awarded for pain and suffering.

By no means is 1161 the best law in the books. But contractors

should be given a chance to repair mistakes.

Amendment 34 states that liable companies will be those who

don’t complete their construction in a “good and workmanlike

manner.” What is this, one may ask.

“Construction in a ‘good and workmanlike manner’ shall include,

without limitation, construction so that the improvement to real

property is suitable for its intended purposes.”

That is a language nightmare. I should know. I am an English

major.

Amendment 34 would also allow homeowners who complete

do-it-yourself home improvement projects to be sued when they sell

their house to another buyer, if their work was not completed in a

“good and workmanlike manner.”

But many remain unconvinced by these arguments, and perhaps

rightly so.

Consider, for example, a construction defect in a residential

home. Let’s say a steel support beam was improperly attached to the

house frame. (A construction worker could come up with a much

better example, but I’m just an English major.) The steel beam

falls and maims a young child, amputating both legs. The pain and

suffering cap of $250,000 might seem a little cruel in such a

situation.

At the same time, there are plenty of examples out there of

lucrative lawsuits that are going to pay for much more than

damages. “Pain and suffering” has become in many cases an

opportunity to make bank.

While supporters of 34 talk about how everyone will be yanked

around by contractors if it doesn’t pass, and those against 34 warn

of the increase in house prices and insurance, here’s an argument

that they can’t get around.

We don’t need to amend the state constitution. This is certainly

a topic legislators should examine in the next year. However, our

constitution is not in need of a poorly worded law that will

increase the number of lawsuits in Colorado’s civil courts. A “no”

vote on Amendment 34 is the logical way to go – even if you feel a

touch of guilt for overlooking the poorly funded supporters of the

amendment, the underdog.

Ben Bleckley is a junior English major. His column runs every

Monday in the Collegian.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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