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Articles Posted in Construction defect

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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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-2021-2-200x300When 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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Michael-Clark-Gort-photo-thumb-160x240-13551An article authored by the firm’s B. Michael Clark, Jr. is featured as the expert guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Certified Question to High Court: Do Original Arbitration Provisions Apply to Subsequent Homebuyers,” focuses on the contractual provisions prescribing arbitration as the means of dispute resolution for construction defect claims.  These stipulations, which are used by developers for sales of their new homes, are probably known and understood by the initial buyers of newly built properties, but are subsequent buyers of these homes also subject to the arbitration provisions of the original warranty deeds?  Michael writes that is the question that an appellate court has certified as one of great public importance for consideration by the Florida Supreme Court.  His article reads:

. . . In Hayslip v. U.S. Home, the Hayslips appealed a nonfinal order granting U.S. Home Corp.’s motion to stay their claim and compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of the original special warranty deed for the property. As subsequent buyers of the home from the original owners, the Hayslips asserted they were not bound by the arbitration provision because it is not a covenant running with the land but rather a personal covenant binding only to the original purchasers.

2dcaThe Second District Court of Appeal found a valid arbitration agreement existed and, as a restrictive covenant running with the land, the arbitration provision contained in the original special warranty deed bound the Hayslips to arbitrate as subsequent purchasers. The court affirmed the circuit court’s order compelling arbitration, but it certified a question of great public importance to the Florida Supreme Court as an issue of first impression.

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A 2019 Florida appellate court ruling in a case against a homebuilder alleging negligent construction of an attic ladder provided added clarity over what constitutes the construction of an improvement to real property under the state’s statute of repose law.

In James Harrell v. The Ryland Group, the First District Court of Appeal considered an appeal of a final summary judgment entered in favor of Ryland over the applicability of the 10-year statute of repose and whether the homebuilder failed to establish that the period of repose had run.

The case originally stemmed from injuries sustained by Harrell when the attic ladder he was climbing at his home collapsed. His lawsuit alleged that the homebuilder was negligent “by failing to ensure that the attic ladder was installed in a secure manner with the appropriate hardware” and “by failing to verify that the ladder was secure before selling the home.”

1dca-300x225The builder filed a motion to dismiss, arguing in part that the claim was barred by the 10-year statute of repose of section 95.11(3)(c), Florida Statutes. The trial court found that the statute is applicable because an attic ladder is an improvement to real property, but it denied the motion because it was not clear from the face of the complaint whether the suit was filed before the expiration of the 10-year period.

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When a property owner finds defects in its general contractor’s work, declares the contractor to be in default and terminates the construction contract, perhaps the last thing it expects is to be forced to rely on the defaulting contractor to complete the project. Yet that is exactly what happened to a Marathon, Fla. condominium association after the provider of its surety bond elected to retain the original contractor to complete the project.

In Seawatch at Marathon Condominium Association v. The Guarantee Company of North America et al., the Florida Keys condominium association retained Complete Aluminum General Contractors for a $5.4 million construction contract for extensive renovations to the community’s three condominium buildings (pictured here). swatchcondos-300x224The Guarantee Company of North America executed a surety bond to secure CAGC’s performance under the contract for the association.

When the association discovered defects in the renovations, it declared the contractor in default and terminated the contract. It then requested Guarantee to promptly exercise one of its options pursuant to the performance bond.

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If a party is contractually obligated to supervise construction work and determine the suitability of construction materials used in the construction, but the party fails to properly supervise and inferior materials are used by a third party, are the costs to repair damage caused by improper materials general, special or consequential damages? That is the query that led the First District Court of Appeal to certify a question of great public importance to the Florida Supreme Court in a recent case involving a construction defect dispute.

The certified question arose in Keystone Airpark Authority v. Pipeline Contractors, Inc. Keystone retained Pipeline Contractors to build airplane hangars and taxiways, and it contracted separately with Passero Associates, LLC to provide services that included “part-time resident engineering and inspection [and] material testing.”

keystone-airport-300x225Specifically, Passero agreed to “[o]bserve the work to determine conformance to the contract documents and to ascertain the need for correction or rejection of the work,” and to “[d]etermine the suitability of materials on the site, and brought to the site, to be used in construction.”

In Keystone’s eventual lawsuit against Passero for breach of contract and negligence, it alleged that Pipeline used substandard material for stabilization underneath the structures, which Passero failed to detect, causing the premature deterioration of the concrete hangar slabs and asphalt taxiways. It sought to hold Passero as well as Pipeline Contractors responsible for the cost to remove, repair and replace the hangars, taxiways and underlying subgrade.

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George-Ketelhohn-Gort-photo-200x300Firm shareholder Georg Ketelhohn authored an article that appeared as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Ruling Clarifies the Use of Pre-Suit Notice in Construction Defect Lawsuits,” discusses how the application of the 10-year statute of repose for construction defect lawsuits in Florida became a bit clearer recently after one of the state’s district courts of appeal found that the requisite pre-suit notice qualified as the commencement of an action under the state’s limitation period.  Georg’s article reads:

Florida law provides a four-year statute of limitations for lawsuits founded on construction defects, but in cases of latent defects, the four-year period runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered. Florida law also provides for a 10-year statute of repose, which requires that any action founded on the design, planning or construction of an improvement to real property must be commenced within 10 years, regardless of whether the construction defect was latent. Florida’s Chapter 558 requires pre-suit notice and compliance with other pre-suit procedural requirements before filing a lawsuit alleging construction defects.

The case of Gindel v. Centex Homes involved allegations of latent defects in townhomes that were discovered by the homeowners only a few months prior to the expiration of the 10-year statute of repose. The owners subsequently provided the requisite pre-suit notice pursuant to Chapter 558 of the Florida Statutes to Centex approximately two months prior to the expiration of the 10-year repose period.

At the completion of the mandatory pre-suit procedure, which was more than one month after the expiration of the 10-year period, the builder declined to provide a remedy for the alleged defects and the homeowners filed suit.

dbrlogo-thumb-220x41-94239The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Centex. It disagreed with the homeowners’ argument that the action commenced upon the filing of the requisite pre-suit notice as prescribed under Chapter 558. The trial court concluded that the action commenced upon the filing of the suit, so it originated after the expiration of the 10-year period.

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George-Ketelhohn-Gort-photo-200x300For the second consecutive day, an article by one of our attorneys was featured as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is authored by shareholder Georg Ketelhohn and is titled “Going Strong: Slavin Doctrine Continues to Protect Florida’s Builders, Designers,” focuses on a recent appellate ruling that illustrates how the Slavin Doctrine continues to offer vital protections from liability for the state’s contractors, subcontractors and design professionals against future injuries alleged to have been caused by defects in their work.  Georg’s article reads:

The 60 year-old ruling by the state’s highest court held that a contractor’s liability in negligence, which is the duty of care that it owes to third parties, terminates if the property owner accepts the contractor’s work with patent defects. It is used to defend contractors from liability for patently obvious and apparent defects when they cause injuries after the property owner has accepted the improvements together with the responsibility for their ongoing maintenance and repair.

dbr-logo-300x57The recent ruling applying the doctrine was issued by the state’s Third District Court of Appeal in the case of Melitina Valiente v. R.J. Behar. It stems from the tragic death of a motorcyclist who collided with another vehicle at a Hialeah intersection in 2008. The subsequent complaint was filed by the victim’s mother against the city of Hialeah, R.J. Behar & Co., Williams Paving and Melrose Nursery, among others.

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One of the most significant changes in years to the Florida laws governing construction defect litigation will take effect on July 1, and for some of the state’s real estate developers and general contractors the changes are going to bring meaningful relief.  The new law will provide one year for developers and contractors to file claims against design professionals, subcontractors and suppliers when they are hit with defect lawsuits just prior to the expiration of the 10-year deadline for latent defect litigation.

The new amendments to Section 95.11(3)(c) of the Florida Statutes are intended to correct what many believe to be an unfair byproduct of the state’s 10-year statute of repose, which functions as a final deadline for the filing of construction defect suits.  It provides that actions for latent construction defects must commence within 10 years of the last of the following four events:  the date of actual possession by the owner; the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy; the date of abandonment of construction if not completed; or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect or licensed contractor and their employer.

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