By: Andrew G. Tuttle, Esq.
On the heels of Florida's enactment of comprehensive tort-reform legislation (House Bill 837), Governor DeSantis on April 13, 2023 signed into law Senate Bill 360 ("SB 360") – effective immediately, which significantly "renovates" Florida's construction statutes.
Indeed, SB 360 not only revamped the timing and type of events triggering the statute of limitations for "an action founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property," but it also reduced the statute of repose and heightened the pleading standard for statutory civil actions. The foregoing amendments, along with other changes, will be explored in this article.
Amendments To Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3)(c) – Statue Of Limitations
Timing: The statute of limitations will no longer start upon the happening of the later triggering event, but it now begins upon the earlier triggering event.
Triggering Events: The following constitute the now-applicable triggering events: "[T]he date the authority having jurisdiction issues [i] a temporary certificate of occupancy, [ii] a certificate of occupancy, or [iii] a certificate of completion, or [iv] the date of abandonment of construction if not completed." Notably, the Legislature deleted other previously-existing triggering events, including: the date of completion of the contract or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer.
While these amendments married the commencement of the statute of limitations to a definitive triggering event, with the intent of avoiding any ambiguities, the reality is that these changes (particularly the deletions) may cause greater confusion as to when the statute of limitations period actually begins. To explain, many "actions founded on design, planning or construction", such as home-improvement projects or similar repair jobs, simply do not involve the now-operative triggering events, but rather those events which were deleted from the statute.
Moving forward, prospective claimants and defendants alike must remain extra-vigilant relative to both the timing and actual triggering event.
Statute Of Repose: As it relates to actions involving a latent defect, the statute of limitations "runs from the time the defect is discovery or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence." It continues, "In any event, the action must be commenced within 7 years . . ." At bottom, the statute of repose was reduced from 10 years to 7 years.
Once again, the Legislature narrowed the now-applicable triggering events to the earliest of those same events enumerated above ([i]-[iv]), and also saw fit to delete other previously-existing triggers events (e.g., actual possession by the owner, the date of completion of the contract or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer).
Certain Newly Constructed Homes: With respect to "a newly constructed single-dwelling residential building [that] is used as a model home, the [statute of limitations] begins to run from the date that a deed is recorded first transferring the title to another party."
Multiple Buildings Treated Separately: For construction claims relating to multiple buildings, the Legislature added that "each building must be considered its own improvement for purposes of determining the limitations period . . ."
Amendments To Fla. Stat. § 553.84 – Statutory Civil Action
Previously, in order to bring a statutory civil action under Fla. Stat. § 553.84, a claimant could merely allege a "violation" of this part or the Florida Building Code. Following SB 360's enactment, however, a claimant must now assert a "material violation". So, what constitutes a material violation? Fortunately, the Legislature provided a definition within this section: "[A] Florida Building Code violation that exists within a completed building, structure, or facility which may reasonably result, or has resulted, in physical harm to a person or significant damage to the performance of a building or its system."
Consequently, SB 360 eliminated statutory claims involving technical or minor violations of this part or the Florida Building Code, which did not result in measurable damage to life or property, thereby, heightening the pleading standard for asserting a statutory civil action.
When Does SB 360 Apply?
As prefaced, SB 360 became effective immediately – April 13, 2023. Additionally, for claims that would not have been barred under the previous version of Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3)(c), but are now barred under the new and effective version of Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3)(c), a claimant must bring that claim on or before July 1, 2024, or otherwise it will be barred.
With construction defect claims constituting an ever-growing percentage of civil filings in Florida, it is not a question of "if", but "when" SB 360 will affect your rights, interests and bottom-line. At Fowler White, we are well-equipped to discuss any actual or prospective matters arising out of the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property, including the latest amendments enacted by SB 360's passage, so please do not hesitate contacting us concerning these matters.
Disclaimer: The information set forth herein is for educational and informational purposes only and does not nor shall be construed to constitute legal advice, or the consummation of an attorney-client relationship.