In Dominguez v. Hayward Industries, Inc., Certified Gunite Company d/b/a Custom Pools, and John M. Pieklo, — So.3d —-, 2015 WL 5438782 (3d DCA Sept. 16, 2015), the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District, discussed whether products liability claims related to a pool filter, a component part of a pool system, were subject to Florida’s twelve-year products liability statute of repose, section 95.031, Florida Statutes. The court held that a pool filter does not constitute an improvement to real property and, thus, the plaintiffs’ claims were subject to the statute of repose.
Ryan and Jessica Dominguez had a pool installed at their house; the delivery and installation of the pool and its filter were completed on December 20, 1999. Over twelve years later – on November 17, 2012 – the pool filter exploded, causing Mr. Dominguez a severe head injury. Mr. Dominguez and his wife brought a products liability action against, among others, the pool filter manufacturer and distributor, Hayward Industries, Inc., and the installer of the pool and intermediate distributor of the pool filter, Certified Gunite Company.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the twelve-year statute of repose barred the plaintiffs’ products liability claims. More particularly, the defendants argued that the real property exception to the products liability statute of repose, section 95.031(2)(b)1., did not apply because the pool filter was a component part of an improvement to real property, not the improvement itself. The trial court agreed and, based on section 95.031(2)(b), granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Dominguezes appealed.
Pursuant to section 95.031(2)(b), for products with an expected useful life of ten years or less, product liability actions must be brought within twelve years from the date the product is delivered or the work completed, regardless of when the injury or property damage occurred, unless the product meets an enumerated exception. One exception to the products liability statute of repose is for improvements to real property. Thus, the issue the District Court of Appeal had to decide was whether “the component parts of a system, namely a pool filter, constitute improvements to real property.”
Although section 95.031(2)(b) does not define the phrase “improvements to real property,” the court, relying on prior case law, held that an improvement is “a valuable addition made to property . . . amounting to more than mere repairs . . . and intended to enhance its value, beauty or utility or to adapt it for new or further purposes.” However, under Florida law, “a product maintains its fundamental characteristics when it is connected to real property.” Because the pool filter maintained its fundamental characteristics as personal property rather than a fixture, the District Court of Appeal held that “[a] pool filter, a component part of [a] swimming pool, .. . does not constitute an improvement to real property within the context of section 95.031.” Thus, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision finding that the plaintiffs’ product liability claim was untimely.
The decision of the District Court of Appeals serves as a reminder that, with respect to products that are incorporated into real property, when analyzing whether a claim is barred by Florida’s products liability statute of repose, it is important to determine whether the product at issue constitutes an improvement to real property.