New Building or Conversion: Who is Liable for Craftsmen's Damage?

4.11.2021
  1. The question of guilt
  2. The landowner's liability
  3. The work owner's liability
  4. Environmental protection and water pollution control
  5. Is private liability and buildings insurance sufficient?
  6. Mandatory: Construction period insurance
  7. Voluntary, but important: builder's liability insurance
  8. Voluntary, but important: Construction insurance
  9. Eyes open when choosing a craftsman

Wherever work is done, mistakes happen. This also applies to new buildings, renovations, refurbishments or conversions. Mistakes are annoying and delay construction work. Sometimes the damage can also be quite expensive. For example, if a craftsman accidentally tears down a load-bearing wall, tiles fall from the roof onto the car on the neighbour's property or the plumbing technician is not paying attention for just a moment and damages a pipe. Who is liable for the financial consequences of the damage?

The question of guilt

Of course, craftsmen are liable for damage they cause during their work. Therefore, ask every craftsman for proof of liability insurance and the conclusion of a building warranty insurance. Unfortunately, it is rarely so clear and unambiguous who is at fault and thus responsible for a craftsman's damage. If you and the craftsman cannot clarify the question of guilt beyond doubt, his insurance could refuse to pay for the damage. In this case, the owner is liable for personal injury and property damage, even if he or she is not directly at fault. For homeowners, there are three liabilities that are important and that you should know about.

The landowner's liability

Landowner liability is regulated in the Civil Code (Article 679 Swiss Civil Code). If construction work damages a neighbour's house, you are liable and your neighbour could claim defence and damages. For example, if workmen drive piles into the ground to support the foundation of your house and this causes cracks in the façade of the neighbouring house. As a landowner, you are causally liable, i.e. even if you are not at fault.

Liability for craftsmen's damage: Cracks in the house façade
As a landowner, you are liable for cracks in the façade of the neighbouring house caused by your construction work.

The work owner's liability

The liability of building owners is regulated in the Code of Obligations (Article 58 Swiss Code of Obligations). As the owner of a building, you are primarily liable for personal injury, but also for damage to property if the building was incorrectly designed, incorrectly constructed or poorly maintained. For example, if a child falls into an unsecured shaft during construction work or a brick falls on the head of a passer-by and injures her. As the owner of the work, you are causally liable (as with landowner liability).

Environmental protection and water pollution control

Environmental protection is regulated in the Environmental Protection Act (Article 59a EPA), water protection in the Water Protection Act (Article 54 WPA). As a builder, you are liable for environmental damage. For example, if a barrel full of toxic chemicals tips over during construction work and contaminates the soil or a bucket of paint falls from the scaffolding into the stream and poisons the entire ecosystem in the vicinity.

Is private liability and buildings insurance sufficient?

Insurance protects you from the financial consequences of damage. In many cases, however, neither your private liability insurance nor your buildings insurance are sufficient if you are held liable for major damage during a construction or conversion project, a renovation or a refurbishment. On the one hand, many liability insurers limit or exclude their coverage above a certain amount, and on the other hand, building insurance is not compulsory in every canton and only covers fire or natural hazards. Therefore, talk to your insurance company and clarify the exact coverage before the work begins. If you want to be on the safe side, you can take out additional insurance to protect yourself comprehensively against claims for damages or liability.

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Mandatory: Construction period insurance

Construction period insurance is the term used for building insurance during the construction period, when fire or natural hazards such as lightning, hail, storms or floods are particularly frequent. It is compulsory in all cantons (except Geneva, Ticino and Valais as well as parts of Appenzell Innerrhoden). In the canton of Zurich, for example, new buildings and conversions or extensions costing more than 50,000 Swiss francs must be insured before work begins. With construction period insurance, you protect yourself against the financial consequences of damage during the construction phase, against claims from third parties and against unjustified claims from insurance companies. In addition, with capital protection you ensure that the construction work continues and the insurance company clarifies the question of guilt for you.

Voluntary, but important: builder's liability insurance

As a builder, you are liable for all damage to other people and property, even if a craftsman caused the damage. For example, if parts of the scaffolding fall onto a parked car, a visitor has an accident on your construction site or a neighbour's house is damaged by the construction work. If you are lucky, your personal liability insurance covers such liability claims. If not, and this is often the case, you should definitely take out separate builder's liability insurance. For construction or conversion costs of CHF 100,000, you should expect to pay an insurance premium of CHF 300 to 400. This is little money compared to the possible liability claims and a good investment in a peaceful night's sleep.

Houzy Advice

Good to know

You are free to choose the guaranteed amount and retain full cost control because the insurance fends off unfounded or excessive claims and settles recourse claims.

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Voluntary, but important: Construction insurance

Construction insurance is like comprehensive insurance for your car. If the house is damaged or even destroyed, the construction insurance covers the costs of the work, building materials and components as well as all insured property. Regardless of who caused the damage. For example, if a craftsman tears into a load-bearing wall or drills into a water pipe, if an excavation pit collapses after a violent thunderstorm or if the structural calculations were wrong and the supporting pillars cannot bear the weight. Construction insurance also covers theft on the construction site as well as damage that occurred during the construction phase but only occurs after construction has been completed.

Houzy Advice

Good to know

Thanks to the low premium, construction insurance is worthwhile even for smaller construction projects, such as bathroom renovations or the installation of new thermally insulated windows.

Liability for craftsmen's damage: Craftsman talks to a man
With the right craftsman, you minimise the likelihood of craftsman damage.

Houzy Hint

Tip

Construction insurance closes gaps in the public liability of many architects, construction managers and craftsmen. Talk to your architect or construction manager, maybe you can take out the insurance together or share in their insurance and split the premium.

Eyes open when choosing a craftsman

Mistakes happen. Even to the best craftsman. What is decisive is how they are dealt with. Every craftsman is covered by public liability insurance. But you have to prove that he made a mistake. That is often difficult. Especially if the craftsman denies guilt, several craftsmen are involved or the case is unclear. If you have all-round insurance, you can save yourself a lot of trouble: You only have to report the damage to your insurance company, which will negotiate with the craftsman or his insurance company and settle the claim for you. With your choice of craftsman, you cannot prevent such unpleasant experiences, but you can reduce the probability. In our network, you will only find certified craftsmen whom we recommend to you with a clear conscience. From construction experts to floorers, roofers, electricians, plasterers, painters, metal workers, tilers, locksmiths, carpenters and tinsmiths.

Ask craftsmen from your region who can't afford or don't want bad publicity, compare all offers and listen not only to your head but also to your gut. Have fun with your next smaller or larger building project!

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