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.
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.
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.
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
In State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Wangs Alliance Corp., No. 21-cv-10389-AK, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26712, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (District Court) considered whether a product manufacturer was barred by the Commonwealth’s six-year statute of repose for improvements to real property from joining the installer of the product as a third-party defendant. The court denied the defendant’s motion for leave to file a third-party complaint to join the installer, finding that the installer completed its work more than six years prior to the motion being filed. This case reminds us that Massachusetts’ six-year statute of repose for improvement to real property also bars a defendant’s contribution claims against third parties. Continue reading
In Wascher v. ABC Ins. Co., No. 2020AP1961, 2022 Wisc. App. LEXIS 110 (Feb. 9, 2022), the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin considered whether the plaintiffs were barred — by Wisconsin’s 10-year statute of repose for improvements to real property claims and the six-year statute of limitations for breach of contract claims — from bringing a lawsuit against the original builders of their home. The plaintiffs alleged negligence and breach of contract against the masonry subcontractors, asserting that they improperly installed the exterior stone cladding. The court found that the plaintiffs’ claims against the original builders were time-barred. Continue reading
Statutes of repose establish a legislature’s determination of when defendants should be free from liability. As set forth in Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 11.202, the statute of repose for construction improvements in Nevada is six years after “substantial completion.” In Somersett Owners Ass’n v. Somersett Dev. Co., 492 P.3d 534 (Nev. 2021), the Supreme Court of Nevada (Supreme Court) discussed when a construction improvement is substantially complete, as defined by the common law, for purposes of NRS 11.202. Because the plaintiff did not establish that its suit was filed within six years of when the rockery walls at issue were substantially complete, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court below. Continue reading
In Mondoux v. Vanghel, No. 2018-219, 2021 R.I. LEXIS 2, 2021 WL 264542, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island considered whether to apply the “discovery rule” to toll the ten year statute of limitations in R.I. Laws § 9-1-13(a) for the plaintiffs’ action for breach of the implied warranty of habitability. Stated another way, the court considered when the plaintiffs’ claim accrued with respect to latent defects. Guided by public policy and the need to provide a definite end for exposure to liability as reflected in Rhode Island’s construction-related ten year statute of repose, R.I. Laws § 9-1-29, the court applied a modified discovery rule. Continue reading
Statutes of repose are generally meant to be absolutes, providing clarity to potential defendants such as contractors. However, in limited scenarios, some states have allowed for exceptions to the defense. For instance, fraud is one potential exception that has been recognized in several jurisdictions and is often raised by parties on the basis of public policy. In Puget Sound Energy, Inc. v. Pilchuck Contractors, Inc., No. 80162-7-1, 2020 Wash. App. LEXIS 2862 (unpublished), the Court of Appeals of Washington determined whether it would allow a fraud exception to its statute of repose for construction activity. The court upheld the trial court’s holding that the statute of repose barred the appellant’s claims, declining to entertain a fraud exception. Continue reading
In D’Allesandro v. Lennar Hingham Holdings, LLC, 486 Mass 150, 2020 Mass. LEXIS 721, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts answered a certified question regarding how to apply the Massachusetts statute of repose, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2B, in regards to phased construction projects. The court held that, in this context, the completion of each individual “improvement” to its intended use, or the substantial completion of the individual building and the taking of possession for occupancy by the owner or owners, triggers the statute of repose with respect to the common areas and limited common areas of that building. Additionally, the court held that where a particular improvement is integral to, and intended to serve, multiple buildings (or the development as a whole), the statute of repose is triggered when the discrete improvement is substantially complete and open to its intended use.