The Irish High Court delivered its judgment on the liability of the providers of infill containing the mineral pyrite in James Elliot Construction Limited v Irish Asphalt Limited (High Court Record No. 2008/4767P) on 25 May 2011. In a decision of Mr Justice Charleton, the Court found that the infill material supplied by the Defendants, Irish Asphalt Limited, contained a high level of the mineral pyrite which as matter of probability caused the floors of the building built by the Plaintiff to heave upwards causing severe structural damage to the building. The Court held that due to the presence of the pyrite the infill material was not fit for its purpose. The building in question was the Ballymun Central Youth Facility, which the Plaintiff, James Elliot Construction Limited, had contracted to build. After the building was completed, cracks started to appear in the walls, which deteriorated to such an extent that the building became unsafe. The Plaintiff had to remedy the building at a cost of €1.55 million.
Pyrite is found in many types of rock and is known to be responsible for swelling. In some cases, the mineral can react with other minerals to form a new substance. This newly formed substance occupies a much greater volume than pyrite and is the cause of extreme swelling which can lead to structural problems in buildings.
Interestingly, the mineral pyrite has already been the source of significant litigation in the Irish Courts. A previous High Court case was brought by the developer, Menolly Homes, against Irish Asphalt Limited and other companies in the Lagan Company Group. This case related to the construction of residential units in North County Dublin in which the same allegations were made in relation to pyrite. Aside from the proceedings instituted by the developers/builders of these units as against the suppliers of the infill (the developer proceedings) a further 400 cases were issued by homeowners as against the developers/builders in respect of alleged defects in houses which they purchased. The developer proceedings settled after a lengthy trial when Menolly Homes withdrew its action and a €25.5 million trust fund was set up to repair the damage to the homes in north Dublin.
It is expected that following the decision in the James Elliot Construction Limited case a number of actions could be brought by developers against suppliers of infill where buildings are suffering from structural problems as a result of the presence of pyrite in the infill. However, Irish Asphalt Limited are expected to appeal the decision of the High Court to the Supreme Court leaving any potential claimants in a state of uncertainty until the Supreme Court rules on this matter.