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LA Temblor is a Reminder of Nevada’s Construction Defect Law

Benson and Bingham

A 7.1-magnitude quake rocked the greater LA area on last week, though injuries and property damage were minimal. [1] The reason the impact in LA was not greater is that the epicenter of the quake was some 100 miles from the city, lying in the town of Ridgecrest, California. The Nevada town of Pahrump is about the same distance from Ridgecrest, and the recent temblor is a reminder of the recent fight over Nevada’s construction defect lawsuit policy.

The Ridgecrest quake packed the punch of 45 nuclear bombs and kept LA residents on edge for several days as aftershocks continued. [2] It had been preceded by a 6.4-magnitude quake that struck on the Fourth of July. [3] The Ridgecrest area continued to experience additional earthquakes, including one that registered a 4.8 on the Richter Scale and that occurred in the early hours of July 12, more than a week after the initial quake. [4]

The Richter Scale is over 80 years old and remains the standard for measuring and comparing earthquakes. It is logarithmic, meaning that each whole-number increase (e.g., from 2.3 to 3.3) represents a tenfold increase in intensity. Thus, the 7.1 quake on July 5 was nearly ten times as strong as the 6.4 quake a day previous, even though the difference between the quakes’ measures was only 0.7. [5]

Shaking That Crosses State Lines

As mentioned above, the town of Pahrump felt the shaking as well. This makes sense, since an earthquake’s energy generally travels in all directions from the source of the event. Since we dwell on the Earth’s outermost layer, the crust, we notice the transfer of earthquake energy upward toward the crust and outward away from the epicenter. Since the Nevada community of Pahrump is about as far from the Ridgecrest epicenter as the megacity of Los Angeles, it stands to reason that the shaking in Pahrump would rival that felt in LA, even if the national news media only covered the latter. A man is believed to have died as a result of the shaking in Pahrump, making him the first known earthquake fatality in Nevada history. While the circumstances of his death may never be known for sure, authorities believe that the man was killed when a vehicle he was working on was knocked off a jack and onto his body during the earthquake. [6]

If the man’s death was caused by the Ridgecrest earthquake, it would make his demise as bizarre as it was tragic. But earthquakes can, and do, cause less exotic damage and injuries in Nevada and should remind us of the recent effort to reform the state’s laws on construction defect lawsuits. Nevada is the third-most seismologically active state in the country, following Alaska – which endured a 7.1 quake last winter [7] and the most powerful quake ever recorded in North America, a 9.2 monster in 1964. [8] Experts believe that the Las Vegas area is unlikely to suffer a significant quake, [9] but the Reno area suffered an unnerving spate of quakes about a decade ago that is understood as a likely precursor to “the Big One.” [10]

Recent Changes to Nevada Construction Defect Laws

Property damage is a common casualty of earthquakes, and whenever a home is damaged the homeowners tend to ask whether things were built as they should have been. In the early 1990s, Nevada witnessed a surge in construction-defect lawsuits, and the industries responsible for building and selling homes began to panic. Ultimately legislators adopted compromise legislation, enacted in 1995, that required aggrieved homeowners to attempt to achieve non-litigation solutions first and then, if the homeowner failed to make things right, enabled homeowners to secure not just damages but also compensation for expert witnesses and attorneys’ fees. The law became known as Chapter 40, a shorthand based on the section of the Nevada Revised Statutes where it was enacted. [11]

Twenty years later, homebuilders regarded Chapter 40 as a boondoggle and successfully dismantled many of the law’s major provisions. Among the changes, the 2015 law imposed a universal statute of limitations of six years, whereas the old system allowed for claims arising ten years after construction under certain circumstances. The law also eliminated the provision for plaintiffs to secure attorney’s fees. [12] Studies showed that construction-defect lawsuits in Nevada increased nearly fourfold between 2000 and 2012, bolstering the view that Chapter 40 had not struck the right balance and needed to be reformed. On the other hand, construction-defect lawsuits have dropped 90 percent since the 2015 law took effect, suggesting that Nevada lawmakers may have over-corrected. [13]

With these battle lines drawn, lawmakers considered new changes in the last legislative session. The Legislature passed, and Governor Steve Sisolak signed into law, AB 421. [14] The law reverses some of the most significant aspects of the 2015 law:

  • Extends the universal statute of limitations from six years to ten years
  • Re-institutes the availability of attorney’s fees
  • Makes violations of building codes grounds for bringing a construction-defect claim. [15]

With these new changes in effect, legal remedies will become available that homeowners have not had for several years. If you believe that your home was shoddily constructed, contact an experienced construction defect lawyer for a consultation.

[1] https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ridgecrest-earthquake-power-energy-20190713-story.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.usgs.gov/news/update-magnitude-71-earthquake-southern-california?qt-news_science_product…

[4] https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/ci38548303/executive

[5] https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/glossary/?term=Richter%20scale

[6] https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2019/07/12/suspected-ridgecrest-earthquake-related-death-would-first-…

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Anchorage_earthquake

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_Alaska_earthquake

[9] https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nation-and-world/8-biggest-earthquakes-in-nevada-history

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Reno_earthquakes

[11] https://scholars.law.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1687&context=nlj

[12] https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2015/02/26/358715.htm

[13] https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/developers-trial-lawyers-face-off-over-bill-revising-constr…

[14] https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL//80th2019/Bill/6799/Overview

[15] https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/developers-trial-lawyers-face-off-over-bill-revising-constr…

Image Credit:  Martin Luff  CC BY-SA 2.0

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