NY Appellate Court Limits Contractor Liability in Home Explosion

John Caravella Esq.
February 21, 2012 — 1,175 views  

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, 4th Department, on December 30, 2011, upheld in large part the ruling of a trial court in a unanimous decision.

In the matter of New York Cent. Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Glider Oil Company, Inc., & Stewart Brockett, d/b/a Another Construction Company, an action was brought against the contractor and an LP gas installer and supplier by the homeowner’s insurance company to recover the losses paid to the homeowner upon the destruction of the home by an LP gas explosion.

The homeowner entered a contract with Brockett for the construction of a home which was to include an LP gas system. The homeowners also entered into a separate contract with Glider for the installation of the LP system, and for subsequent deliveries of LP gas.

Construction of the home was completed in September, 2001, and the LP system was completely installed by October, 2001. Glider returned to the home several times since construction to service the system and supply LP gas, the last being on November 6, 2006. The home was destroyed March 20, 2007 by an LP gas explosion.

The homeowner's insurance company initially brought claims of breach of contract, negligence, breach of warranty and strict products liability. Both Brockett and Glider moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of complaint against them. The trial court granted summary judgment to Brockett and partially granted Glider’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff insurance company took this appeal.

The appellate court failed to find the decision of the trial court to be in error in allowing summary judgment and partial summary judgment for the defendants.

“We reject the contention of plaintiff on its appeal that the court erred in granting that part of Brockett's motion for summary judgment dismissing the breach of contract cause of action against him as time-barred. The statute of limitations for a breach of contract cause of action is six years (see CPLR 213 [2]). In an action "against a general contractor and architect for defective construction and design, the cause of action generally accrues upon the completion of construction, meaning completion of the actual physical work" (State of New York v Lundin, 60 N.Y.2d 987, 989; see Phillips Constr. Co. v City of New York, 61 N.Y.2d 949, 951, rearg denied 62 N.Y.2d 646; Caleb v Sevenson Envtl. Servs., Inc., 19 A.D.3d 1090, 1091), i.e., "when the contract in question was substantially completed" (Town of Poughkeepsie v Espie, 41 A.D.3d 701, 706, lv dismissed 9 N.Y.3d 1003, lv denied 15 N.Y.3d 715)”

“Although there is evidence in the record that Brockett returned to the home in either the fall of 2001 or 2002 to complete work, that evidence is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact concerning the date when the home was substantially completed (see generally Zuckerman, 49 NY2d at 562). Indeed, the work in question was described as incidental and cosmetic, and it was performed in a few hours on one day (see Lundin, 60 NY2d at 989-990; Tom L. LaMere & Assoc., Inc. v City of Syracuse Bd. of Educ., 48 A.D.3d 1050, 1051-1052). "[C]onstruction may be complete even though incidental matters relating to the project remain open" (Lundin, 60 NY2d at 989; see Phillips Constr. Co., 61 NY2d at 951; Tom L. LaMere & Assoc., Inc., 48 AD3d at 1052)”

The appellate court further rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that the trial court erred in dismissing the breach of warranty cause of action as against Glider.

“The statute of limitations for a breach of warranty cause of action is four years (see UCC 2-725 [1]), and such a cause of action "against a manufacturer or distributor accrues on the date the party charged tenders delivery of the product'" (Rissew v Yamaha Motor Co., 129 A.D.2d 94, 99, quoting Heller v U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., 64 N.Y.2d 407, 411; see UCC 2-725 [2]). It is undisputed that Glider installed and connected the LP gas tank and supply system on or about October 22, 2001, and this action was commenced more than four years after that cause of action accrued (see UCC 2-725 [2]; Heller, 64 NY2d at 411).”

The appellate court further found that plaintiff’s claims against Glider for negligence and strict products liability causes of action were improperly dismissed by the trial court, and modified the trial court’s order accordingly.

Full text of the decision can be located here, and provides additional discussion on the topics of breach of contract, tort recovery, and strict products liability.

John Caravella Esq.

The Law Offices of John Caravella, P.C.

Mr. Caravella is a construction attorney admitted to practice in all NY and FL state courts representing architects, contractors, sub-contractors and owners in all phases of construction. He has education and working experience in architecture.