New Legislation Limits Construction Defect Litigation

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A new Florida law aimed at curtailing construction defect litigation should provide significant relief for contractors. The law has three key elements. First, it adds a “materiality” requirement for Owner initiated lawsuits for breach of the Florida Building Code. Second, it reduces the time limit to bring claims from ten to seven years. Third, it clearly defines the “trigger” date that starts the seven-year clock. This article provides a brief summary of these changes.

Materiality for Code Violations.

The first change attempts to eliminate technical violations of the Florida Building Code from becoming drawn out civil lawsuits. Now, to prevail in a suit for breach of the Florida Building Code, a plaintiff must be able to show that the deviation from the code was “material.” The statute defines a “material violation” as one that may reasonably result, or has resulted, in physical harm to a person or significant damage to the performance of a building or its systems. There is now a higher burden on the owner.

Revised Time Limits for Construction Defect Claims.

As mentioned above, the new law reduces the outer time limit to bring claims to seven years. Just as important, it better defines the “triggering” events that start the seven-year clock. Now, the time will begin to run from the earlier of: (1) issuance of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, Certificate of Occupancy or Certificate of Completion; or (2) the date of abandonment of construction if not completed. Under the earlier version of the statute, there were a number of other “trigger” events, such as the date the owner took possession, and the time didn’t begin to run until the latest of all the events. The statute also clarifies that for multi-building projects, the time limitations are calculated on a building-by-building basis rather than on the project as a whole. In all, these changes significantly reduce the ability to bring claims years after the project.

When do these changes begin?

The easy answer, these changes begin immediately! However, for any claims that existed under the previous 10-year version of the statute will be grandfathered in so long as they are filed before July 1, 2024. Therefore, we do expect a surge of claims on older projects to be filed in the first half of next year.

Recognition and Thank You to the AGC.  

We are certain that the revised law will result in less litigation for contractors. In addition, contractors will have much more certainty on when older projects are really behind them from a litigation perspective. We recognize that this wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of The Florida Associated General Contractors Council, as well as our local chapters AGC Florida East Coast Chapter and The South Florida AGC (collectively the AGC). We thank the AGC not only for its efforts in pushing this important legislation, but for everything the AGC does on behalf of contractors in South Florida.