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A recent ruling by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal has clarified the question of whether a negligence claim against a design professional on a construction project is subject to the four-year or two-year statute of limitations set forth in Fla. Stat. §95.11. The Third DCA held that construction-related malpractice suits against design professionals are subject to the four-year rather than two-year statute of limitations.

In Am. Auto. Ins. v. FDH Infrastructure Servs., an engineering firm was sued after a construction accident claimed the lives of three workers during an installation on a nearly 1,000-foot tall telecommunications tower. The lower court granted summary judgment to the engineering firm, finding that the two-year statute of limitations for professional malpractice claims barred the lawsuit. In the ensuing appeal the plaintiff argued that the four-year statute of limitations for construction-related claims should apply instead of the two year, more general statute of limitations.

3dca-300x200Prior to this decision, which statute applies was a legal ambiguity which implicated two different statutes of limitations. One sets a period of two years for actions for professional malpractice, other than medical malpractice, and the other provides for four years for any action based on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property. The uncertainty resulted in prior conflicting rulings applying each of the two- and four-year statutes.

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Stuart-circle-of-excellence-300x300The firm’s Stuart Sobel has been honored as the recipient of the Miami Dade Bar Association’s 2023 Circle of Excellence award in the Construction Law category.

The organization’s annual Circle of Excellence awards recognize attorneys in Miami-Dade County who personify excellence in the legal profession. Nominees are evaluated by a panel of their peers in their respective area of practice, and the final selections are based on votes by the group’s entire membership.

Stuart has been trying and arbitrating construction and commercial disputes throughout the country for more than 40 years. His substantial experience in the construction sector derives from his decades of representation of developers, construction managers, general contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers. He has tried and arbitrated scores of cases to verdict, judgment, and award over the years.

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Oscar-Rivera-2015-hi-res-200x300Oscar R. Rivera, our firm’s managing shareholder, was the first and the penultimate local business leader quoted in the Sun Sentinel‘s article on the repercussions of Hurricane Ian featured on the front page of today’s edition of the newspaper. The article, which is titled “Survivors’ Decision: Rebuild or Relocate?”, focuses on the consequences of the devastating storm for residents and business owners throughout the impacted areas. It reads:

Hurricane Ian gave southwest Floridians plenty of reasons to leave: It killed at least 115 people, crushed countless homes and businesses, turned area waterways into toxic soups and caused at least $50 to $65 billion in damages.

But as residents and business owners assess the devastation and reach for insurance policies that may or may not cover all of their losses, there appears to be an emerging consensus for rebuilding, and not relocating to areas perceived to be less vulnerable to catastrophic storms.

ORivera-SS-clip-for-blog-10-10-22-134x300It is a mindset, analysts say, driven by a long-standing affinity for Gulf Coast living, a strong resolve among public and private sector interests, and a growing tolerance of devastating hurricanes as life disruptors.

“We have already been contacted by numerous clients and potential clients,” said Oscar Rivera, managing shareholder of the Siegfried Rivera law firm in Miami, which represents condominium owners, associations and commercial real estate investors. “Everyone we have spoken to is committed to rebuilding.”. . .

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Florida’s ten-year deadline for lawsuits over hidden/latent construction defect claims, dubbed the “statute of repose,” has been in the spotlight recently, thanks to a controversial bill that was introduced in the state legislature. SB 736 would have reduced the deadline for certain claims to seven years, continuing a trend that began in 2006 when the repose period was lowered from fifteen years to ten.

A ruling by Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal focused on issues surrounding the determination of the trigger date for the start of the period of repose. The unanimous opinion reversed the lower court’s summary judgment in a case stemming from a construction defects lawsuit brought by the Spring Isle Community Association against Pulte Home Corporation.

Pulte, the developer of the 71 building, 390 townhome community in Spring Isle, Fla., was accused of construction defects related to the buildings’ exteriors and roofs. It filed a third-party complaint against several subcontractors, and the trial court found that the statute of repose barred its claims against one of the largest subcontractors on more than 80 percent of the townhomes.

Pulte appealed the trial court’s decision, and the association was substituted as the appellant.

5DCA-300x183In its appeal, the Spring Isle association argued that the repose period began when the master contract between Pulte and the subcontractor in question was completed, and also when all other townhome construction contracts were completed, which occurred less than ten years prior to the filing of Pulte’s third-party complaint.

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Stuart-Sobel-2021-2-200x300The Real Deal ( chronicled the firm’s result in securing $6.4 million in damages from an affiliate of Codina Partners in a ruling that found the developer wrongfully terminated Grycon, the general contractor that built its 5350 Park condominium project in Downtown Doral.  Stuart Sobel, the lead counsel for the contractor, was quoted in the article, which is a follow-up to the real estate news website’s first report on the case from August 2020.  Today’s article reads:

. . . On Tuesday, following a non-jury trial, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas ruled against 5350 Park LLC, the development entity managed by Codina Executive Chairman Armando Codina and the firm’s CEO Ana-Marie Codina Barlick. In 2020, Fort Lauderdale-based Grycon sued 5350 Park, alleging Codina Partners fired the general contractor without cause in order to avoid paying a final bill of $3.6 million. 5350 Park has a pending countersuit that was filed last year.

Coral Gables-based Codina will now have to pay nearly double what the developer allegedly owed, plus attorney fees and court costs, according to Thomas’ order. “The greater weight of the evidence establishes 5350’s termination of Grycon for cause was wrongful,” Thomas wrote.

RDeal“Judge Thomas ruled [Codina] didn’t have a right to terminate my client,” Grycon’s attorney Stuart Sobel said. “I don’t know what the real motivation is, but [Codina] has held off paying us a boatload of dough for almost three years now.”. . .

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A recent ruling by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal reiterates that the terms of the warranty sued upon will ultimately dictate the forum for litigation of construction defects. For property owners considering suit, it is important to consider the implications of any forum selection clause prior to filing suit.

The appellate court’s opinion in West Bay Plaza Condominium Association v. Sika Corporation arose from the association’s appeal of the dismissal of its complaint based upon it being filed in the wrong court.

The dispute arose from work performed by a builder, construction manager and engineer for the association.  Sika, a supplier for the project, issued a five-year warranty to the association for sealant products used in the condominium’s parking garage. 3rd-dcapp-300x200The association sued Sika as well as the other parties involved in the project alleging breach of contract and negligence. It sued Sika for breach of warranty alleging that the sealants provided had allowed water to intrude into the garage.

Sika moved to dismiss, asserting that the warranty contained a forum selection clause requiring claims to be litigated in New Jersey. The association argued that it should not be required to litigate in New Jersey because it had never signed the warranty with Sika. However, the trial court dismissed the suit against Sika.

The appellate court affirmed.

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Stuart-Sobel-2021-2-200x300The firm’s lawsuit against Suffolk Construction on behalf of Suncor, a structural steel fabricator, involving the construction of the new Virgin Voyages cruise terminal at PortMiami completed last year was the subject of an article from April 6 by The Real Deal.  The breach of contract lawsuit filed in March in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges Suffolk withheld $2.6 million in payments, including for extra expenses accrued because the plans it provided were erroneous and incomplete.  The article reads:

. . . As the design-build contractor, Suffolk was responsible for the plans provided by the engineer. So, to the extent there were any errors or gaps, the accountability falls on Suffolk, said attorney Stuart Sobel, who represents Suncor.

RDeal“Suncor has done something like 100 jobs for Suffolk all over the country for 25 years. They had a great relationship with Suffolk until this job,” Sobel said. “And they are really at a wit’s end to explain why Suffolk has taken this position.”

Boston-based Suffolk declined comment.

Suffolk accused Suncor of delaying the job, but the steel contractor has proven that it did not, according to Sobel.

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Stuart-Sobel-2021-2-200x300When the editors and reporters at the Daily Business Review are seeking sage legal wisdom on major construction lawsuits involving high-profile projects for their readers, they turn to the firm’s Stuart Sobel for his input.  Stuart, who is board certified in construction law by The Florida Bar, was quoted extensively by the DBR on his insights and takeaways on a lawsuit involving the “Signature Bridge” currently under construction in downtown Miami.

The article from the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, appeared in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper under the headline “In Miami Federal Lawsuit, Litigant Seeks $155 Million for ‘Signature’ Construction Gone Wrong.”  It focuses on a lawsuit in Miami federal court seeking the nine-figure damages due to the defendants’ alleged gross negligence in designing the new span that has been called Miami’s “Signature Bridge” (see renderings in video below).  The article reads:

. . . Stuart Sobel, a shareholder at Siegfried Rivera in Coral Gables, is not involved in the lawsuit that Alexandre Drummond, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw in Atlanta, filed on behalf of Archer Western LLC and De Moya Corp., identified in the complaint as CJV.  Sobel said it is suspect that one of the defendants, HDR Engineering Inc., would err so completely in its preliminary design documents, such as by failing to complete basic due diligence in not having wind tunnel testing done until after the project broke ground.

“You can do wind tunnel testing; you can do all sorts of testing, especially with the technologies that we now have,” Sobel said. “You can test the design 16 different ways from Sunday before you submit it. This is shocking to me if that’s true.” . . .

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Oscar-Rivera-2015-hi-res-200x300Managing shareholder Oscar R. Rivera was proud to be selected by the editors of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, for the publication’s weekly “Leading the Way” column featuring extensive Q&A interviews with South Florida legal leaders.  Now closing in on his fourth decade with the firm, Oscar discusses in today’s article the changes that the firm and the entire legal profession have experienced during the pandemic, and how we have successfully contended with all of the challenges and continued growing.  The article reads:

. . . While Rivera has worked on some of Miami’s most visible developments since joining the firm in 1984 — including representing the developer of 200,000-square-foot Mary Brickell Village — he hasn’t encountered every legal issue his clients face.

Putting heads together to solve new problems was easier before COVID, Rivera said. So was getting to know law clerks’ personalities and training young lawyers. And even if the pandemic were eradicated tomorrow, Rivera knows that many lawyers and staff, including those at his own firm, don’t want to come back every day.

dbr-logo-300x57At the end of 2021, firm founder Steven Siegfried stepped down from his role as co-managing partner, leaving Rivera to lead the evolution of Siegfried Rivera in an eventual post-COVID world.

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Our firm is extremely proud of our talent development program for new associates that was featured in an article in today’s online edition of American Lawyer Media’s Daily Report newspaper in Atlanta.  The article, which was titled “Extremely Beneficial: How Firms Use Talent Development Programs to Get a Leg Up” and will soon appear in the print edition of the newspaper and also in the pages of ALM’s Daily Business Review in South Florida, focuses on the programs that several law firms in Georgia and Florida have created to help new associates develop their skills and knowledge.  It includes insights from the firm’s Stuart Sobel and Maryvel De Castro Valdes.  The article reads:

. . .For at least a quarter-century, Siegfried Rivera, a Coral Gables, Florida-based firm, has had its new construction attorneys go through a rigorous process of studying construction law and then speaking to fellow lawyers in the firm before lecturing in front of other attorneys in other organizations and even at public events such as conferences.

Maryvel-De-Castro-Valdes-002-200x300Maryvel “Marty” Valdes, a nonequity shareholder at Siegfried Rivera, went through the program shortly after joining the firm in 2012.
“It’s important,” she said. “For the firm, number one, it helps give the younger associates a sense of confidence. It’s something you’re very concerned [about] when you are first out there. You don’t want to make yourself or the firm look bad. I would say it was a benefit in every sense of the word.” . . .

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