Steve Becker wins a Motion to Dismiss in Cook County
In this case, the matter stemmed from a property damage case involving a roof collapse at a commercial building in Chicago. In addition to claiming extensive property damage, the Plaintiff was claiming lost profits, due to an inability to lease the subject building. The Plaintiff’s complaint contained counts sounding in breach of contract and negligence, and it alleged that our client (a masonry contractor, who allegedly removed some columns that supported the roof trusses) failed to ensure the structural integrity of the building. Steve Becker argued that the complaint did not allege an explicit contractual duty to ensure the integrity of the roof structure, and that none of the terms of the explicit terms of the contract related directly to the roof. Notwithstanding the Plaintiff’s allegation that our client’s removal of the columns caused the collapse, the judge agreed with Steve’s argument, and he granted the motion to dismiss the breach of contract count.
With respect to the negligence count, our argument was based on the “economic loss” doctrine, which provides that a defective condition caused by a contractor’s shoddy work is considered an “economic loss,” which is not compensable in a negligence action. There are several exceptions to this rule, and the exception at issue in this case was that a Plaintiff can recover for the defective condition under a negligence theory if a “sudden and dangerous event” occurs as a result of the condition and if this event causes either personal injury or external property damage (i.e., damage to something other than the condition itself.) For example, if the ceiling collapse in this case had injured someone inside the building, or if it had caused damage to furniture or to other personal property, then that would be an exception to the “economic loss” doctrine.
The Plaintiff argued that, because the insured’s allegedly defective work was performed on support columns, the resulting damage to the roof was “external” damage (because the support columns and the roof are separate components of the building). We argued preliminarily that the support columns and the roof were actually part of one integrated structure, but our primary argument was that the “sudden and dangerous event,” rather than the structure that the work was performed on, is what determines whether or not there was any external damage. Put more simply, even though our client’s work was performed on columns, the “sudden and dangerous event” was the roof collapse. Because the roof collapse did not result in damage to anything other than the roof itself, the “economic loss” doctrine applied, and the negligence count was dismissed. Although the Plaintiff was given leave to amend the breach of contract claim to try to set forth a cause of action based on a breach of implied warranty, the judge stated that the exception to the economic loss doctrine did not apply, and he did not believe that the Plaintiff would be able to set forth a valid cause of action under a negligence theory.