SUBJECT: Construction Dispute Involving Custom Luxury Home
LOCATION: Central Valley, CA
CLIENT: Brian Whelan, Whelan Law Group
EXPERT: Steve Hill
Xpera’s forensics team was recently called on by attorney Brian Whelan of Whelan Law Group for an interesting assignment involving the construction of a custom luxury home in an exclusive area in California’s Central Valley.
A series of work quality issues had escalated tensions between the homeowners and the general contractor to the point where they ended up in arbitration. While shoddy paint was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for the homeowners, Xpera expert Steve Hill identified an even larger problem that would have posed a serious safety risk had it gone undetected.
“Ongoing problems with workmanship led to extreme friction and near daily battles,” said Whelan. “It came to an impasse when the general contractor refused to correct the obvious problems with the paint. The homeowners simply could not take it anymore, and litigation followed.”
Whelan brought in Hill to do a thorough examination of the home, which at that point was about 90% complete, and to provide an opinion on the quality of the work. Hill was originally focused on problems with wall texture and paint, the issues that were a breaking point for the homeowners. He ended up detecting a number of other significant problems, including bursting drywall seams, subpar tile work and inadequate concrete patches.
The most startling discovery, however, was something the homeowners were not even aware of—one that posed a serious safety issue.
The contractor had failed to properly adhere two massive marble slabs in the master bathroom shower. The five-foot-by-10-foot vertical panels—which weighed over 1,300 pounds—were actually peeling off the wall.
“Given the size and dimensions of the space, if someone had been showering when the panels collapsed, they would have been killed,” said Whelan. “Without Steve’s expertise evaluating the problems with the house, this dangerous situation would have gone undetected, and there very likely would have been a catastrophe.”
Hill testified about his findings at an arbitration hearing that was slated to last for a couple more weeks. However, less than 48 hours after Hill’s testimony, the parties negotiated a settlement. In the end, the contractor agreed to pay for the necessary repairs and the work was completed to the owner’s satisfaction.
“I was amazed to find that, in this modern age of advanced construction techniques and easily obtained information on how to build things, some trade professionals still do not know basic installation procedures,” said Hill. “Methods for installing ceramic tile, for instance, have been in use for over 100 years. Setting tile solidly in mortar with no voids has been the standard of care forever. In this case, tiles were popping off the wall looking as clean on the back side as when they were boxed at the factory, which was completely unacceptable.”
“Steve was instrumental in identifying and solving problems,” said Whelan. “In a way, it was a blessing that a conflict over the paint led to Steve identifying an issue that could have resulted in a loss of life.”
Whelan went on to explain that had Steve been involved earlier in the process, the level of acrimony between the parties that led to litigation might have been avoided. While in the end, his clients were able to get everything they asked for, it was a much longer and more labored process than it needed to be.
“Having an objective middleman involved during construction would have helped keep the project moving in the right direction and allowed any disputes to be mediated and resolved before they escalated to the point of no return. Ultimately, it would have saved a lot of money for both sides if someone like Steve could have stepped in sooner.”