On April 13, 2023, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed into law SB 360 which, among other things, shortens the statute of repose period for improvements to real property. The law also revises the date on which the statute of limitations period runs for these types of damage claims. Florida’s revision of this law provides further evidence of the state’s tort reform efforts.
Category Archives: Construction Defects
New Mexico Adopts Right to Repair Act
On April 7, 2023, New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed into law New Mexico’s Right to Repair Act (Act), 2023 N.M. SB 50. The Act’s effective date is July 1, 2023. The Act applies to construction defects in dwellings, i.e., newly constructed single family housing units designed for residential use. The Act applies to not only newly constructed housing units but also to systems and other components and improvements that are part of the housing unit at the time of construction.
Pursuant to the Act, except for construction defect claims that involve an immediate threat to the life or safety of persons occupying the dwelling, that render the dwelling uninhabitable or in which the seller, after notice, refused to make a repair pursuant to any applicable express warranty, a purchaser must comply with the provisions of the Act before filing a complaint or pursing an alternative dispute mechanism related to a construction defect in the dwelling. A seller who receives a notice complying with the provisions of the Act must give notice to all construction professionals who may be responsible for the defect.
The Act gives the seller an opportunity to inspect the dwelling and take reasonable measures to determine the nature and cause of each alleged construction defect, and the nature and extent of any repairs needed. Further, the Act requires sellers to respond within 60 days. The response may include: a) an offer to repair or replace each alleged construction defect, b) an offer to provide monetary compensation to the purchaser, or c) invoke any remedies provided in the construction contract. If the seller’s response includes a notice of intent to repair or replace the construction defect(s) – and such offer has not been rejected by the purchaser – the purchaser shall allow the seller and the seller’s construction professional a reasonable opportunity to do so.
A purchaser who reasonably rejects the seller’s offer has complied with the requirements and may initiate suit. Similarly, if a seller does not comply with the Act and the seller’s failure is not due to any fault by the purchaser, the purchaser shall follow any remedy provided for in the construction contract, file a complaint in court or pursue any alternative dispute resolution mechanism set forth in the construction contract.
To the extent that the repair and replacement process takes place pursuant to the Act, the statute of repose set forth in NMSA § 37-1-27 and any applicable statutes of limitations is tolled.
Although the Act does not specifically mention that it applies to subrogation claims, because a subrogating insurer steps into the shoes of its insured, subrogation professionals should be aware of this change in the law and, as appropriate, provide the notice set forth in the Act.
A Tort, By Any Other Name, is Just a Tort: Massachusetts Court Bars Contract Claims That Sound in Negligence
In University of Massachusetts Building Authority v. Adams Plumbing & Heating, Inc., 2023 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 28, 102 Mass. App. Ct. 1107, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts (Appeals Court) considered whether the lower court properly held that the plaintiff’s breach of contract and indemnification claims were time-barred by the statute of repose because they sounded in tort. The Appeals Court held that while the six-year statute of repose only applies to tort claims, they can also bar claims for breach of contract and indemnification if they sound in tort. The Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, finding that the plaintiff’s breach of contract and indemnification claims were just negligence claims disguised as non-tort claims.
In 2013 and 2014, the University of Massachusetts (UMass) retained various contractors to renovate the dining hall for one of its campus buildings, which included the installation of new ductwork for the kitchen’s exhaust system. The dining hall opened for service in September 2014. In the Spring of 2018, it was discovered that the ductwork for the kitchen had collapsed. Further investigation revealed other deficiencies with the exhaust system. On December 1, 2020, UMass filed a lawsuit against various contractors, asserting negligence, breach of contract, and indemnification. The breach of contract claims alleged breach of express warranties.
Not So Fast: Washington Court Finds the One-Year Limitations Period in a Residential Construction Contract Is Unenforceable
In Tadych v. Noble Ridge Constr., Inc., No. 100049-9, 2022 Wash. LEXIS 545, the Supreme Court of Washington (Supreme Court) considered whether the lower court erred in enforcing a one-year accelerated limitations period clause in a construction contract. The Supreme Court considered the extent to which the provision hindered the plaintiffs’ statutory rights – as set forth in Wash. Rev. Code § 4.16.310 – which provides homeowners with a six-year repose period for construction defect claims. The court found that the contractual provision’s shortening of the time period from six years to one year was a gross deprivation of the plaintiffs’ statutory rights and was unfairly one-sided in favor of the defendant. As such, the court held that the provision was substantively unconscionable and, thus, unenforceable.
Too Costly to Be Fair: Texas Appellate Court Finds the Arbitration Clause in a Residential Construction Contract Unenforceable
In Cont’l Homes of Tex., L.P. v. Perez, No. 04-21-00396-CV, 2022 Tex. App. LEXIS 7691, the Court of Appeals of Texas (Appellate Court) considered whether the lower court erred in refusing to enforce an arbitration clause in a construction contract between the parties. The Appellate Court considered the costs of the arbitration forum required by the contract in the context of the plaintiffs’ monthly household income. The court also compared the arbitration cost to the estimated cost of litigating the dispute. The court held that the arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable on the grounds that the arbitration costs were not affordable for the plaintiffs and not an “adequate and accessible substitute to litigation.” The Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s decision denying the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. Continue reading
The Final Nail: Ongoing Repairs Do Not Toll the Statute of Repose
In Venema v. Moser Builders, Inc., 2022 PA Super. 171, 2022 Pa. Super. LEXIS 414, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (Superior Court) upheld an award of judgment on the pleadings from the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County (Trial Court). The Superior Court found that Pennsylvania’s 12-year Statute of Repose for improvements to real property (Statute of Repose) began to run upon the issuance of the certificate of occupancy following original construction of the home in 2003—not from the completion of repairs to the home that continued through 2008. Continue reading
Public Policy Prevails: Homebuilders and Homebuyers Cannot Agree to Disclaim Implied Warranty of Habitability in Arizona
In Zambrano v. M & RC II LLC, et al., 2022 Ariz. LEXIS 309, the Supreme Court of Arizona held that a homebuilder and homebuyer could not waive or disclaim the implied warranty of workmanship and habitability. While the court would normally enforce a contract between two parties – even if one side made a “bad deal” – they will not do so if the contract’s terms are against public policy. Continue reading
In All Fairness: Illinois Appellate Court Finds That Arbitration Clause in a Residential Construction Contract Was Unconscionable and Unenforceable
In Bain v. Airoom, LLC, No. 1-21-001, 2022 Ill. App. LEXIS 241, the Appellate Court of Illinois (Appellate Court) considered whether the lower court erred in enforcing an arbitration clause in a construction contract between the parties and, as a result, dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The Appellate Court found that even if the arbitration clause was enforceable, the appropriate action would have been for the court to stay the lawsuit, as opposed to dismissing the case entirely. The Appellate Court then considered the language of the arbitration clause and found that several provisions were substantively unconscionable, which rendered the entire arbitration clause unenforceable. The Appellate Court reversed the lower court’s decision compelling arbitration and reinstated the plaintiff’s complaint. Continue reading
Hold on Just One Second: Texas Clarifies Starting Point for Negligence Statute of Limitations
In construction or similar ongoing projects, problems often pop up. Sometimes they can pop up again and again. Making things even more complicated, one problem may affect another, seemingly new problem. When these construction problems result in property damage, timelines tend to overlap and determining when a statute of limitation begins to run for a particular claim can be difficult. Especially in states with short statute of limitations for tort claims like Texas, knowing when a statute begins to run is crucial for a subrogation professional. Continue reading
Where-Forum Art Thou? Is the Chosen Forum Akin to No Forum at All?
Many courts enforce forum selection clauses in contracts between parties. In W. Bay Plaza Condo. Ass’n v. Sika Corp., No. 3D21-1834, 2022 Fla. App. LEXIS 1637 (W. Bay Plaza), the Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District (Court of Appeal) answered the question of whether a mandatory forum selection clause in a manufacturer’s warranty was enforceable as to a condominium association, who was a non-signatory. The trial court enforced the forum selection clause – calling for litigation in New Jersey rather than Florida – and the Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling. Continue reading