Can Architects and Contractors Be Held Liable for Harmful Building Code Violations in California?

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Building codes exist in the state of California in order to protect the safety of the public at large. When an architect, contractor, or homeowner willfully and negligently violates the building codes and someone suffers serious or fatal personal injury as a consequence, both criminal and civil actions may arise.

California Building Codes and Negligence

Within the state of California, all home improvement and other construction projects must be performed in accordance with local and national building codes. These building codes address many issues, from the amount of weight that joints can bear in a home to the proper method of installing and ventilating fireplaces to the number of outlets one must have and how far apart those outlets can be spaced. These California codes exist to ensure the safety of structures; when violations of them result in serious or fatal personal injury, the architects or contractors may face civil or criminal actions.

In order to ensure that the building code is followed, any work performed on a home or building or any new construction must not be undertaken until a permit is obtained from the county where the building or remodeling is taking place. The purpose of requiring a permit is to alert officials that construction work is being done so that work can be inspected in conformance with the building code. Anything that does not comply with building code provisions as determined by a building inspector will need to be corrected or removed.

If a homeowner or contractor chooses to do work without a permit, this is a violation of the law. In the event that something goes wrong and people are injured as a result of the defective building, this can give rise to both a negligence cause of action and, in some egregious cases, to charges of criminal negligence being brought against the homeowner or contractor or both. Likewise, architects who design or approve home plans are also expected to comply with all provisions of the building code. If an architect is lax in his duties in design or supervision of the construction of a home, he too can be subject to a negligence cause of action or, in some cases, to a charge of criminal negligence when someone is harmed. An architect may also be subject to an additional cause of action by the homeowner who retained his services, as architects—like lawyers and doctors—can be held accountable for malpractice.

Homeowners, contractors or builders and architects in the state of California should all ensure that they comply with building code and other safety regulations in order to avoid significant potential liability and even possible criminal charges for accidents resulting in serious or fatal personal injury.

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