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Florida ruling sheds light on statute of repose for construction defect claims

In Florida construction defect cases, you can't pursue compensation in court without first providing notice to the responsible parties. This notice - often referred to as "pre-suit notice" or "Chapter 558 notice," for its location in the Florida statutes - must be provided at least 60 days before a civil action can be filed. In cases involving housing associations of 20 or more parcels, the pre-suit notice must go out at least 120 days prior to filing a suit.

How does this notice impact filing deadlines?

Under Chapter 558, this notice tolls (that is, pauses) the four-year statute of limitations for construction defect claims. But what about the statute of repose?

This longer deadline - 10 years - involves defects that weren't discoverable within the earlier timeframe.

The statute doesn't address this question. And previous case law was not clear about what effect, if any, the mandatory pre-suit notice had on the statute of repose. However, a recent decision by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed that question head-on.

The court's ruling

The case, a class-action claim, involved defective townhomes. The owners closed on their properties in 2004. They provided the required notice to the contractor and subcontractor in 2014, one month shy of the 10-year deadline. By the time they filed the lawsuit, complying with the 60-day waiting period under Chapter 558, the 10-year deadline had expired. Thus, if their pre-suit notice didn't toll the statute of repose, the owners' claim would have been time-barred.

Noting that the term "action" in the statute of repose isn't limited to judicial action, the appellate court held that pre-suit notice tolls both the statute of limitations and the statute of repose. The court reasoned that serving the pre-suit notice - a mandatory procedural requirement - commences a legal action or proceeding, even though it's not a formal court filing.

What it means

This ruling is favorable for those interested in pursuing construction defect claims, as it gives associations and owners more breathing room. Still, it's prudent to seek legal advice long before deadlines are looming. Speak with a skilled attorney experienced in the complexities of construction defect litigation about deadlines, liability and more.

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