Bill would end lawyers' guaranteed fees in construction-defect lawsuits

Sens. Michael Roberson of Henderson, Joe Hardy of Boulder City and Ben Kieckhefer of Reno introduced legislation Monday that's aimed at cleaning up what builders see as some of the worst issues surrounding construction-defects law.

SB161 would first strengthen the definition of a construction defect to require that it be something "which presents an unreasonable risk of injury to a person or property or which results in physical damage in violation of accepted standards of quality."

It also would eliminate the automatic awarding of attorney fees in construction-defects cases. That provision is unique in the nation, and changing it would alone eliminate most frivolous lawsuits filed over home-construction problems because lawyers would know they wouldn't automatically get paid for driving a case to court, Roberson said.

He said the "entitlement" to attorney fees "has been the irresistible enticement for unscrupulous lawyers who have hijacked homeowners associations in order to steer construction-defect cases to their offices."

The measure would narrow the period during which a lawsuit can be filed, the so-called statute of repose, from 10 years to three.

Roberson, himself a lawyer, said the problem centers around a small group of "unscrupulous attorneys cleaning up" on such lawsuits.

The bill also would require that any construction-defect claims be disclosed to a home's potential buyers.

One goal of the plan is to give builders a chance to fix a problem instead of ending up in court, after which they can't make repairs until litigation is handled, Roberson said.

He said he doesn't see SB161 as partisan. He said the language is the same as what's proposed by Democratic Sen. Terry Care of Las Vegas in the 2009 session, which Roberson said received significant Democratic support in the Senate.

SB161 was referred to the Judiciary Committee for study.


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