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
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
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
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
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.