Rippy to watch measure closely
Gregg Rippy of Glenwood Springs will be monitoring the fate of Amendment 34 tonight with more than a casual interest.The Republican lawmaker, who is about to step down from office, was the primary sponsor of the construction liability limits bill that Amendment 34’s backers seek to overturn.Rippy calls House Bill 1161 the most contentious bill he carried as a lawmaker. The controversy has lingered long since its passage in the legislative session of 2003. That June, opponents of the bill sought to put to the bill to a vote of the people, but it wasn’t until this fall that they could get it on the ballot.”I think it’s one of the worst campaigns I’ve ever seen and one of the tackiest,” Rippy said, noting that a pro-34 Web site is http://www.stopscrewingus.com.”I hope it’s shown for clearly what it is, a self-interested initiative by trial attorneys,” Rippy said.The attorney most cited by Rippy and other backers of 1161 is Denver-area lawyer Scott Sullan, who they say made millions from suing builders before the passage of the bill placing caps on awards in such suits.Sullan said he would have been just as happy to stay out of the public limelight, but 1161 forced him to get involved.”I felt this was the homebuilder industry grabbing special protections for themselves. The rest of us don’t have the clout to obtain special protections,” Sullan said.But Rippy said that in fact, all kinds of industries benefit from caps on damage awards in lawsuits.”You go to your doctor, you have a limit on damages,” he said, citing medical malpractice caps in Colorado.”Our health-care costs would be much higher than they are right now without those,” Rippy said.Rippy believes 1161 has reduced the cost of liability insurance for homebuilders, and thus made housing more affordable for the public.But just as Sullan has been accused of seeking to serve his own interests in supporting 34, Rippy has been accused of having selfish motives in sponsoring 1161.Rippy is a construction contractor, but in the paving business. He said 1161 focuses on protecting homebuilders, and he’s always laughed when people have suggested to him that he benefits from 1161.”I’ve said, ‘You would never want me to build your home,'” Rippy said.”I didn’t do this for self-interest, and quite frankly I took a lot of offense when people tried to throw that out, but it didn’t surprise me, either.”Rippy chose against running for re-election in order to seek the congressional seat Glenwood Springs native Scott McInnis is vacating. Rippy came in third in the August Republican primary race, which Greg Walcher won.As Rippy looks back at his legislative career, he considers 1161 an important and hard-fought bill for him. But he think he’s carried others bills just as significant, such as one that lets owners of water rights loan or lease water to others during droughts. That bill emerged from a difficulty that arose with existing law when the city of Glenwood Springs tried to borrow Roaring Fork River water from a ditch operator in the Aspen area, in order to keep water in the river from Aspen to Basalt.He also points to his bill requiring that buyers of real estate be notified when they don’t own mineral rights. This measure was in response to cases in which residents were surprised to have companies wanting to drill for natural gas on their land.”I think for Garfield County that was every bit as important a piece of legislation” as 1161, Rippy said.But Sullan thinks Amendment 34 is important to Garfield County because it is home to a prime example of the issues at stake.In April 2003, the Terrace Condominiums Homeowners Association sued developer Jay Harkins and others associated with construction of the Glenwood Springs condos. The association says soil and foundation problems produced settling that has cracked walls and concrete floors, and set askew doors and windows in at least three multi-family units of the 12 in the project.Sullan is representing the condo association. He and the homeowners hurried to file the suit before 1161 was signed into law, so as not to be held to its restrictions. He fears the limits, which include a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering, would have kept the homeowners from seeking full compensation for losses associated with the condos’ problems.Sullan also notes that 1161 keeps homeowners from receiving compensation for future damages even when they know they will occur. One fear at the Terrace complex is that the foundation problems eventually may go beyond the buildings already affected.But Rippy said part of the problem in Colorado before his bill became law was that courts were going along with an assumption that just because some housing units had problems, all did, and parties were winning awards despite having suffered no damages.Rippy also believes that if residents of the Terraces had worked within the procedures set up by his bill, their case wouldn’t still be tied up in court and might have been settled. Under 1161, homeowners and builders are required to try to resolve construction defect disputes before going to court.Sullan said he always has favored that part of 1161, and Amendment 34 wouldn’t change that.He also disputes the contention by critics of 34 that it would leave homeowners liable years later for defects arising out of home improvements they made before selling their properties. Sullan said these defects already are addressed at the time of sale, through the notation of any problems existing with a property.But Rippy counters that under 34, people also could be held liable for problems they weren’t aware of when they sold their homes.Rippy said he would support giving consideration to revising 1161 in response to criticism that it precludes recovery of loss of business resulting from construction defects in commercial properties. However, he said most businesses already have insurance that would cover such losses.Sullan said Amendment 34 was written in reflection of the fact that a home is most families’ biggest investment.”You need to protect that, and this will enable you to do that,” he said.Rippy said he is all for people getting compensated fairly for building problems. But 1161 is needed to prevent sky-high damage awards that end up costing everyone, he said.”It should not be that just because you have a construction defect, it’s like winning the lottery.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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