Law School Case Brief
Harris v. Suniga - 344 Or. 301, 180 P.3d 12 (2008)
One ordinarily is not liable for negligently causing a stranger's purely economic loss without injuring the stranger's person or property. For a plaintiff to recover in those circumstances, the plaintiff must show some source of duty outside the common law of negligence, such as a special relationship or status that imposes a duty on the defendant beyond the common-law negligence standard.
Defendant general contractors George Suniga and his corporation, had built an apartment building for an investment company, which later sold it to plaintiffs, Charles and Kary Harris, co-trustees of the Harris Family Trust. Shortly after the purchase, the purchasers discovered what they alleged to be defects in the construction of the building. Because of these alleged defects, the purchasers asserted that water had leaked into the building, causing dry rot and requiring extensive repairs. The purchasers alleged that they were harmed by the general contractors' negligence in constructing the building. Defendant general conractors asserted that plaintiff purchasers' claim was for a purely economic loss, and therefore, could not be brought in the absence of a special relationship between the parties. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, concluding that plaintiffs' claim was barred by the economic loss doctrine. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment. Defendants petitioned for review.
Was it proper for the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of defendant general contractors because plaintiff purchasers' claims were barred by the economic loss doctrine?
The Supreme Court of Oregon concluded that the economic loss doctrine did not apply. The concerns underlying the economic loss doctrine were not implicated because the focus of the claimed negligence was on physical damage to property. The allegations in plaintiffs' complaint were quite different from the kinds of damages that the Court in other cases had characterized as economic losses. Plaintiffs sought recovery for physical damage to their real property, and the court generally permitted a property owner to recover in negligence for damages of that kind.
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