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“Whither the Lawsuits?” A Mid-2009 Assessment of the State of Green Building Litigation

In a piece that appeared both on her blog and at Greener Buildings, my colleague Shari Shapiro opines on why, as we rapidly approach the midpoint of 2009, there remains a dearth of reported lawsuits arising out of green building projects, despite much commentary suggesting the contrary to be imminent. Ms. Shapiro suggests four reasons: (1) a relative lack of green building practices generally as compared to overall construction; (2) owners who are “too afraid” to measure building performance and are thus unable (or unwilling) to assert a claim arising out of violated green building expectations; (3) a general reluctance to engage in costly litigation given the economic downturn; and (4) the green building movement’s relative infancy. However, over the course of 2009, and notwithstanding the lack of lawsuits filed to date, there has been an explosion in commentary on green building litigation across the legal community. Accordingly, I thought Ms. Shapiro’s piece was particularly timely and worthy of some additional discussion here at GRELJ.

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Toronto to Mandate Green Roofs for Most New Construction

Notwithstanding many of the persistent- and still emerging- concerns over the increased risks from their installation, Toronto is on the verge of becoming the first city in North America to mandate green roofs for most types of new construction. By a vote of 36-2 which, according to the National Post, “was adopted after remarkably little debate on the floor of council,” the sweeping legislation requires green roofs on all residential buildings over 6 stories, schools, affordable housing developments, commercial, and industrial buildings.

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Considering Standard of Care Provisions in Green Construction Contracts

One of the most critical provisions in any contract for professional design services relates to the standard of care under which the design professional will be required to render its services. In the absence of contract language to the contrary, a design professional will be held to a common law standard of care commensurate with that of other professionals providing the same services to a geographically similar community. However, on a green building project, an owner may seek to retain a design professional specifically because of its sustainable design expertise. Accordingly, it may attempt to hold the design professional to a higher standard of care than that which prevails in the industry. This may be problematic for both sides for a number of reasons. Professional liability insurance policies provide insurance for legal liability that arises out of negligent professional acts, errors, or omissions. However, if not properly vetted, standard of care provisions have the potential to trigger standard exclusions to such policies. This article suggests two such exclusions and strategies for owners and design professionals to consider as they draft and negotiate construction agreements for green building projects.

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Mitigating Risks When Building Green Roofs

Green roofs have been a part of building for over a thousand years. The current green building movement has, however, had the greatest impact on the growth of the green roofing industry. A green roof is commonly defined as a roof that consists of vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. There are two basic types of green roofs: (i) an extensive roof, which has a few inches of soil cover; and (ii) an intensive roof that has two feet or more of soil for a variety of grass, trees, bushes and shrubs. Green roofs are used in a multitude of buildings, including industrial facilities, commercial offices, retail properties and residences. The benefits of a green roof include reduced storm-water runoff, absorption of air pollution, reduced heat island effect, protection of underlying roof material from sunlight, reduced noise, and insulation from extreme temperatures. A green roof can thus be a critical design element for a green building. As more properties across the country are attempting to obtain LEED certification, it is worth noting that a green roof can help a property obtain over a dozen LEED credits, including credits for reduced site disturbance, landscape design that reduces urban heat islands, storm water management, water efficient landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies and innovation in design. The increase in green roofs and the green building movement is also resulting in an increase in liability resulting from errors in the design, installation or maintenance of green roofs. As a result, owners, design professionals and contractors should carefully consider ways to mitigate the potential risks involved with building a green roof.

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