If you are dealing with latent construction defects, it is imperative that you consult with counsel to understand your rights. This not only includes claims for property damage stemming from latent construction defects, but also personal injury stemming from such defects. There is a ten-year statute of repose to sue for latent construction defects. See Fla.Stat. s. 95.11(3)(c). After the expiration of this statute of repose you are out of luck, meaning you can no longer sue.
Now, I probably will not be the first to tell you that the statute of repose is not written so clear that you know the precise date it ends (or the last date you can sue for a latent defect). For this reason, you really want to operate conservatively, meaning it is always better to sue early if you think you could be running on the end of the statute of repose period. It is always advisable to avoid any legitimate argument that you filed your construction defect lawsuit too late.
In Harrell v. The Ryland Group, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D2054b (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), a subsequent owner of a house sued the original homebuilder in negligence for a construction defect causing a personal injury. The subsequent owner claimed the homebuilder defectively installed an attic ladder (that provided access to the attic for the original construction) which collapsed as he was using it. The homebuilder filed a motion for summary judgment that the statute of repose expired so the owner’s claim was time-barred. The First District agreed.
The subsequent owner tried to argue that the statute of repose did not apply because the installation of an attic latter does not constitute an “improvement” to real property and the statute of repose is based on actions “founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property.” The First District was not having this argument because “the attic ladder at issue here was installed as part of the construction process of the home, required labor and money, made the property more useful/valuable in that it provides a more convenient means of access to another level, was not mere repair or replacement, and was affixed to the attic, making it an integral part of the home.”
Even something perceived as nominal like the installation or construction of an attic ladder can constitute an improvement to real property making it subject to the ten-year statute of repose to sue for latent defects. Hence, do not sit idle if you are dealing with a latent construction defect – take the conservative approach and start the required litigation process sooner than later.
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