On August 9th, in Sirrah Enterprises, L.L.C. v. Wunderlich, the Arizona Supreme Court settled the question about recovery of attorneys’ fees after prevailing on implied warranty claims against a residential contractor. The simple answer is, yes, a homeowner who prevails on the merits can recover the fees they spent to prove that shoddy construction breached the implied warranty of workmanship and habitability. Why? Because, as Justice Timmer articulated, “[t]he implied warranty is a contract term.” Although implied, the warranty is legally part of the written agreement in which “a residential builder warrants that its work is performed in a workmanlike manner and that the structure is habitable.”
In other words, a claim based on the implied warranty not only arises out of the contract, the claim is actually based on a contract term. Since, in A.R.S. § 12-341.01, Arizona law provides for prevailing parties to recover their fees on claims “arising out of contract” and because the implied warranty is now viewed by the courts as a contract term, homeowners can recover their fees after successfully proving breach of the implied warranty.
The Sirrah case also leaves no doubt that implied warranty claims are not tort claims. Thus, you can anticipate that liability insurance will not be available to contractors defending implied warranty claims because insurers usually exclude coverage for and defense of claims alleging breach of contract.