Construction and design professionals in Nevada’s home building industry breathed a collective sigh of relief on June 5, 2017 when the 79th Session of the Nevada Legislature adjourned without entertaining Senate Bill 250, which sought to reinstate homeowner plaintiffs’ nearly automatic right to recover attorneys’ fees, expert costs, and costs of investigation when bringing suit for alleged constructional defects.
Until 2015, homeowners’ recovery of such damages was the reality of the construction defect landscape in Nevada. While Chapter 40 of the Nevada Revised Statutes specifically allowed for recovery of “reasonable” attorneys’ fees, expert costs, and costs of investigation, the trend in Nevada was that plaintiffs were all but guaranteed awards of all such sums. Of course, this environment incentivized plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring claims of questionable or little repair value in cases where the attorney’s fees and expert costs often far exceeded the costs of repair.
HOW AB125 CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE
Such was the reality in Nevada until 2015 and the passage of Assembly Bill 125, which eliminated the nearly automatic award of attorneys’ fees and expert costs and overhauled Chapter 40 in many other respects. AB125 made over portions of Chapter 40 by:
- Placing awards of attorneys’ fees into the framework of offers of judgment, utilized extensively in other fields of civil litigation and available equally to homeowner plaintiffs as well as construction industry defendants; and
- Reworking expert costs and costs of investigation to allow for the award of those items only in the case of proven defects and only as to those costs directly related to the investigation and proof of those defects.
The 2017 Legislative Session saw efforts to return Chapter 40 to its pre-2015 version through the introduction of SB250. Fortunately for construction and design professionals in the home building industry in Nevada, the State Senate Judiciary Committee did not act upon the bill and the effort died having never made it to a floor vote. Considering that Nevada’s Legislature meets biannually, the current framework of Chapter 40 is intact until at least 2019. The 2017 Legislative Session, however, is an illustration to how quickly those of the construction defect plaintiffs’ bar can move to initiate efforts to turn back the clock to a much riskier time for construction and design professionals.
Those in the industry should remain vigilant and monitor future legislative efforts to reinstate such awards or other clearly anti-builder measures. Such measures simply drive-up the overall cost and expense of home construction and, in turn, home ownership, which it is often said, is one of the cornerstones of the American dream.