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Texas Construction Lawyers Take Note: Attorneys Fees Recoverable for Breach of Warranty

As a Texas attorney representing both builders and construction companies in Texas on one hand, and Texas consumers of construction services on the other, I have had occasion to litigate a number of cases in which construction defects were the central issue in the case. I learned long ago (because I had some great mentors when I was a new lawyer), that when I represented a Plaintiff in a suit to recover damages for a construction defect, the claim should be characterized as both a breach of contract as well as breach of warranty. It always seemed redundant to me, but a recent case illustrates that it may not be. Consider the case of Medical City Dallas Ltd. v. Carlisle Corporation, decided recently by the Dallas Court of Appeals and subsequently heard by the Texas Supreme Court.

Medical City purchased a membrane type roofing system from Carlisle Corporation. Within a short time, the roof began to leak. Initially, Carlisle performed repairs. When the repairs appeared not to cure the leaks, Medical City obtained the advice of a roofing expert, who examined the membrane and determined that it was failing. Medical City requested that the roof be replaced, and when Carlisle failed to respond, this litigation ensued.The opinion of the Dallas Court of Appeals held that a breach of warranty was different than a breach of contract, and in particular, a breach of warranty did not support an award of attorneys fees to the damaged party, even though the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Section 38.001 clearly allows the injured party in a breach of contract case to recover attorneys fees. Since Medical City’s pleadings contained only a claim for breach a warranty, the Dallas Court of Appeals held that it could not recover attorneys fees, only its damages.

The Texas Supreme Court opinion reversed this decision, and concluded that since a written warranty is a type of written contract, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Section 38.001(8) supports an award of attorneys fees for breach of a written warranty.

I think this was a good decision. If you asked a non-lawyer what they they thought the difference between a written warranty and a written contract was, you would get a lot of blanks looks. Common sense tells us that they should be the same, and attorneys fees should be awarded if either is violated and causes damages.