How long can I wait to bring a claim for negligent construction or design?

May 22, 2014, by The Law Office of Larry R. Williams, PLLC

There are many time deadlines in the law. In Tennessee, attorneys know that the statute of limitations (a type of deadline) for injury claims is different that for contract claims. However, for claims involving negligent construction or design of an improvement to real estate, there is another important deadline called a statute of repose.

While a statute of limitations can be extended under certain circumstances, a statue of repose is more strictly enforced and creates an absolute barrier to claims brought after that date. For the construction or design of improvements to a home or other property, the legislature passed Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202 which states:

All actions to recover damages for any deficiency in the design, planning, supervision, observation of construction, or construction of an improvement to real property, for injury to property, real or personal, arising out of any such deficiency, or for injury to the person or for wrongful death arising out of any such deficiency, shall be brought against any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, supervision, observation of construction, construction of, or land surveying in connection with, such an improvement within four (4) years after substantial completion of such an improvement.

The four year statute of repose begins to run on the date of substantial completion as opposed to the date of the injury or damage. Caldwell v. PBM Properties, 310 S.W. 3d 818, 823 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2009)(permission to appeal denied Mar. 15, 2010). The statue of repose is "'substantive ... and extinguish[es] both the right and remedy...'" Id. "'Thus, the effect is to prevent what might otherwise be a cause of action from ever arising... The injured party literally has no cause of action.'" Id. Moreover, "the traditional three-year statute of limitations for injury to property found at Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-105 (2000), cannot extend the existence of a cause of action outside the ceiling "superimposed" by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202. Id. at 823-24 (citing Watts v. Putnam County, 525 S.W. 2d 488, 491 (Tenn.1975).

Substantial completion is defined as the date upon which the improvement could be used for that which it was intended. Counts Co. v. Praters, Inc., 392 S.W.3d 80, 86 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012). The fact that someone attempted repairs after completion of the project does not change the date of substantial completion. Id.

As a result, it is important for people with claims involving poor design, whether it be a breach of contract or an injury claim, to consult with an attorney as soon as the defect is found.