When suing to recoup roof replacement costs in the Lone Star State you need an expert to prove up damages. Texas courts won’t consider a homeowner’s testimony as competent evidence where a roof was replaced and there was a question of the reasonable and necessary cost of the replacement. In Wortham Brothers, Inc. v. Haffner,1 property owners sued their roofing contractor for negligent roof replacement for two of their properties. The trial court entered judgment in favor of owners and awarded treble damages. On appeal, the contractor prevailed when the court determined the necessity of complete roof replacements and reasonableness of replacement roof costs were matters of specialized and technical nature that had to be established by expert testimony.
In Wortham, the property owner had hail damage to the roofs on two of his properties. He contracted with Wortham Brothers to tear off his old roofs and replace them with new ones. Wortham Brothers subcontracted the jobs out, and the subcontractors did a shoddy job. The roofs continued to leak so the property owner had to get yet another roofing company to re-do the whole job. The property owner sued Wortham Brothers for reimbursement and additional damages. At trial, the property owner testified that:
- the preexisting roof was not torn off as required by the contract, but was re-covered;
- the roof on a flat portion of the structure was not replaced although the contract called for it;
- Wortham Brothers did not check the quality of the decking as required by the contract;
- he had seven leaks in his home after the work was performed; and
- nails were protruding through the underneath side of the eaves of his home.
Although the property owner provided a first hand account of all problems with the roofing job, he failed to offer any expert testimony pertaining to the necessity of the subsequent repairs or the reasonableness of the charges assessed by the rescue roofer. Instead, though his own testimony, the property owner presented evidence of the costs of repairs charged by Wortham Bros. and the rescue roofer to support his claim for damages. Failing to have expert testimony regarding damages proved fatal to the property owner’s case. In the interest of avoiding any future fatalities, here are the Wortham Rules to Remember:
- A party seeking to recover damages measured by the cost of repair must present competent evidence so that the trier of fact is justified in finding that the repairs are necessary to restore the property to its former condition and that the cost of repairs is reasonable and fair.
- Evidence pertaining to the necessity and reasonableness of repair costs falls within the exclusive domain of an expert (in some Texas courts).
- An estimate without the testimony of the person making the estimate or other expert testimony is no evidence of the necessity of the repair or the reasonableness of the costs of the repair.
- As a general rule, matters involving specialized or technical knowledge require expert testimony.
Property owners may shy away from retaining an expert because the costs will eat up some of the potential recovery. Fortunately, Wortham provides a prime example of why the expert expense (while not always reasonable) is absolutely necessary.