The Nebraska Court of Appeals recently decided a construction defect claim that illustrates the frustration that may result with taking a case to trial. After one trial and two appeals, the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to try the case a second time. And, this was over a $15,000 claim. This is one of those situations where someone is saying, “Only the attorneys got paid.”
In this case, Centurion Stone v. Trombino, Centurion was hired to do stucco and stone work on the exterior of the Trombinos’ home in October, 2007. The total contract price was $61,000. The Trombinos paid Centurion $55,590, but refused to pay the remaining amount owed, which included the contract price plus additional expenses relating to the project, for a total of $10,135.61. Centurion sued the Trombinos, asserting a breach of contract claim. The Trombinos responded, asserting that the work was poorly performed and demanded in excess of $7,000 to repair the poor workmanship.
The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Trombinos in the amount of $16,000. Centurion appealed the jury’s verdict. The Court of Appeals rejected Centurion’s challenges to the jury’s verdict, but reversed anyway, finding that the jury instructions were contrary to Nebraska law. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court to try it again.
So, we are now four and one-half years after the contract. The case has been tried to the jury, appealed twice, and now will go the jury a second time. And, either party could appeal that verdict. I don’t know what the parties spent on attorneys in this case, but my guess is that it exceeds the $16,000.
I also wonder if any efforts were made to resolve this case before it went to trial or while it was on appeal. While I’m sure that there were or are some hard feelings on both sides of this dispute, to spend more than four years fighting about $16,000 does not make any sense. Contractors are well served to look hard at the economics of a situation before embarking on long, protracted litigation, regardless of how strongly they feel about their claim. There are situations where you must litigate, but go into litigation knowing that it can be a long, drawn out process, and no one is guaranteed a victory.