Suing A Contractor For Poor Workmanship: Legal Actions

Christopher “Kit” Davlin
By: Kit Davlin
PublishedDec 14, 2022
5 minute read

When you hire professionals to build on your property, you expect professional results. You expect that remodeled kitchen or brand new theater room to make your home more livable while adding long-term value. Unfortunately, bad work can ruin those plans, while still costing thousands of dollars. You deserved better. If you’re ready to sue over poor workmanship, here’s what you need to know.


What is Poor Workmanship?

Most of us know shoddy work when we see it. However, bringing legal action against a contractor for poor construction requires not just retaining the right lawyer, but meeting a legal threshold. You cannot sue for poor workmanship unless you can establish it.

The best way to establish whether professional standards of workmanship were met is to have put them in the contract before the work begins. Then, if the final result falls short, your legal case will be on solid footing. 

However, most contracts don’t include work quality. When that’s the case, you must look for other ways to establish defective construction. Let’s take a look at how you might do that:

Does the Work Meet Professional Standards? 

Professionals must meet the standards of workmanship for the trade they work in. This applies to: 

  • builders
  • roofers
  • flooring installers
  • electricians
  • plumbers
  • licensed tradesmen

Different standards apply to different trades. The standards can be set at the county, state, or federal level and may or may not be in writing. Therefore, your best bet is to have a licensed professional in the trade come out to inspect the work. An expert can tell if the work was sufficiently good or negligently bad.

Trade associations are a great place to start when you need to find an expert to inspect your contractor’s work. For example, if you feel a landscaping job was done poorly, go to the Colorado Association of Landscapers to find an expert. Your attorney can do this for you as part of building your case. 

Was the Work Performed Properly? 

Many construction tasks require specific procedures for handling, building, and installing. Tasks must be done in a certain order, under specific conditions, and sometimes left to dry or harden for a period before the worker moves to the next step in the procedure.

If the instructions say, “do it this way,” but the subcontractor does it their own way, that’s an easier case for you. Establishing the cause goes hand-in-hand with establishing whether poor workmanship occurred. 

Were the Right Materials Used? 

The quality of materials used in a building or remodeling project matters. Flimsier substances should never be substituted where heavy-duty materials are needed. Did the plumber put in PVC pipes as requested or copper pipes that might taint the drinking water? Did the guy who tiled your bathroom floor use premium epoxy mortar or a cheaper and less water-resistant knock-off? 

What Evidence Can Prove Poor Workmanship?

Photos and Videos 

Visual evidence rules the roost. If you’re filing a complaint for poor workmanship, you’ll make your strongest case with photographs and video footage of defects such as: 

  • leaking pipes
  • a leaking roof
  • loose floor tiles
  • exposed electrical wiring
  • a crumbling rock wall
  • loose cabinets
  • mold and rot resulting from leaks

A photo or video is worth a thousand words. It can be worth even more in damages. 

Emails and Text Messages 

You’re unhappy with how your remodeled kitchen turned out. You thought your plans were clear, but the contractor claims they were open-ended and inconsistent. Now it’s your word against theirs, and the case is in limbo. Wouldn’t it be nice to have documentation to back you up? 

This is where texts and email messages come into play. They create an indisputable record of time-stamped communication between you and the contractor.

Pro tip: Use texts and email as much as possible when communicating with anyone you’re paying for work. Even if you’ve just spoken over the phone, or face to face on your property, take time to send a summary email or text to the person. You can also keep a journal of the project’s day-to-day progress. Those contemporaneous notes can be evidence in your case.  

Do You Need to Give Notice Before Filing a Lawsuit? 


In Colorado, the Construction Defect Action Reform Act (CDARA) requires you to give the construction professional an opportunity to inspect their own work and offer to either repair the defect or refund your money.

CDARA mandates that:

  • You send a demand notice to the construction pro alleging poor workmanship.
  • The contractor has 30 days from the date of notice to inspect their work.
  • After inspection, the contractor has another 30 days to propose a fix or a refund.
  • You have 15 days to accept the offer, or you can reject it by not responding.
  • You cannot file a lawsuit for at least 75 days after sending the demand notice to the contractor or construction pro.

Note: A court will halt any construction-related lawsuit filed before meeting CDARA’s notice of claim requirements.

What if You Can’t Wait 75 Days to Fix a Problem? 

It’s not always prudent or safe to put off fixing defective construction work. However, if you send a notice of claim to the contractor then repair the problem before they have a chance to inspect it, you may commit “spoliation of evidence” and hurt your chances before the court.

This is why documentation and visual evidence are so important. Courts might understand why you jumped to fix a serious problem like leaking pipes, exposed wires, or a leaking hot water heater. So document the poor workmanship. Get visual evidence of the hazardous construction work before moving to fix it. 

Also, get a written and signed statement by any licensed tradesmen who inspected and/or fixed the problem, attesting to the shoddy work and why repairs couldn’t wait.

What Damages Can I Recover in a Poor Workmanship Lawsuit?

You’re not going to get rich suing over poor workmanship. However, you can recover substantial costs that could help you repair or rebuild. 

Colorado awards only actual damages in most construction-related lawsuits. While you’re not likely to get compensation for pain and suffering, or be awarded punitive damages, you can recover attorney fees and legal costs if your contract calls for it.

How Bad Construction Damages are Calculated 

Colorado keeps it simple: Construction professionals must reimburse you the cost of repairing their shoddy or incomplete work.

Example: You paid $50,000 to get your basement remodeled, but the construction crew walked away with the project only 80 percent complete. You pay the contractor $40,000 for the share of the work done, then pay another contractor $25,000 to finish the remaining 20 percent of the work. In total, you’re now out $65,000 on a job the contract promised would only cost $50,000. 

The difference is $15,000. That is what the original contractor should pay you in damages.

Collateral Damages  

Now and then, the damage from bad construction work spreads. Take a leaking hot water heater, for example. It costs only $500 to purchase and have it installed, but dripping water has ruined the floor, warped the drywall, and infected some inside walls with mold and rot. The repair job is considerably more expensive than buying and installing a new water heater. You could be entitled to thousands of dollars in damages in this case. 

If You Make the Repairs Yourself

Unless you’re a construction pro, you cannot bill yourself for repairs you make to your own property. Colorado’s courts also will not award you damages equal to what you’d have been entitled to by hiring a professional.

Example: You spent a whole weekend re-shingling your own roof because, wow, you could do it better than those clowns who charged you $9,000 for shoddy work. However, because you did the re-shingling yourself, the only damage award you’re entitled to is the cost of the materials, and only those that weren’t left over from the original job.

 It’s not always a terrible idea to fix shoddy work yourself, especially for smaller repairs, but you forfeit most of your potential damage award by doing it. 

Talk to an Attorney About a Construction Defect Claim 

There are many issues that can lead to a construction defect claim, and our attorneys have experience with all of those issues. From poor workmanship and unreasonable delays to unlicensed work and breach of contract, we can help. Call 303-688-0944 to start a case assessment. 

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