Launch Slideshow

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Judgment Day

Judgment Day

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    Joe Ferrentino, attorney with Newmeyer & Dillon

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    Michael Turner, attorney with Kasdan Simonds

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    Judge David C. Velasquez

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    William Ingalsbe, attorney with Monteleone and McCrory

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    Concrete has deteriorated due to sulfate attack.

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    Left: Batchman Richard Bowman (left) talks with Tim Toland, president of National Ready Mixed Concrete Co., at its plant in Van Nuys, Calif.

Second, the case is a landmark, but perhaps more psychologically than legally. “We tried three cases that resulted in judgments that there was sulfate attack,” says Vaughan. “Now we have one case where the finding was to the contrary.”

Ingalsbe stresses that homeowners were ordered to pay costs. “Mass mailings go out to a tract and people are encouraged to file lawsuits, told that they could recover hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there's no downside to it,” he says. “Now, there's a decision that prevents plaintiff's attorneys, ethically, from saying there's no downside.”

Third, the case may be a turning point. Insurance industry sources say that settlements for sulfate attack on concrete have dropped dramatically, to about $500 per home, since the Castron decision.

But suits are still being pursued, with ongoing cases in San Diego and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Two changes in the law may yet alter the landscape of sulfate attack suits. One affects only California, which has been the scene of most cases until recently. A law covering houses built after 2003 removes the requirement to prove damage. A plaintiff only needs to show that the concrete does not meet the applicable building code. Few of these cases have come up yet, but interested parties on both sides say it will have an impact.

Those on the concrete industry side seem worried. Ingalsbe notes the long list of specific requirements in the bill, such as, “The concrete shall not contain significant cracks.” “What does that mean?” he asks.

Petersen, the attorney for Standard, perceives the potential for a dramatic increase in lawsuits against placement contractors, general contractors, and suppliers. “It could have a significant effect on the cost of housing in California,” he says.

ACI responds

More recently, in November 2006, the American Concrete Institute clarified ACI 318, the source of the Sulfate Resistance Table in the Uniform Building Code. Kasdan Simonds has repeatedly claimed that concrete which does not meet the table's requirements is illegal. Defense attorneys and their experts have claimed that the table was never intended to apply to residential concrete.

ACI 318 has verified that its application to residential concrete was not its intention, and eliminated the table from the residential concrete code, effective in 2008. It remains to be seen whether that decision will influence cases of concrete poured under the older code.

There is discussion in the concrete industry about possible changes in practices to provide better legal safeguards, such as changing the language of delivery tickets.