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Latent Defects, the Statute of Limitations, and Your Florida Commercial Litigation Case

If you encounter problems related to a commercial arrangement into which you entered, there are several things you need to keep in mind. One of these is that the law gives you a limited time to act. If you wait too long to sue, you may lose your right to seek recovery entirely. That is but one reason among many why it pays to retain skilled Florida commercial litigation attorneys for your case. Experienced counsel can help you be sure that your case meets all mandatory deadlines and that you are not blocked from suing by an improperly calculated statute of limitations.

One commercial litigation action in which the statute of limitations took center stage was a lawsuit arising from the fallout of a relationship between a Palm Beach county marina and the engineering firm it retained to construct a concrete runway slab. The marina intended for the slab to serve as a means for forklifts to transport boats from a boat barn to a water launch area.

At first, the marina was apparently satisfied with the slab. However, over time, that changed. The slab began developing “cracks, spalling and other deterioration.” The marina eventually came to the conclusion that the slab the engineer had constructed was defective, so it sued for damages based upon the defective slab.

The engineer tried to have the case dismissed before it ever even got to trial. The engineer’s argument was that, since the marina had waited more than four years to file its lawsuit, the statute of limitations had expired, and the marina was legally prohibited from pursuing its claim.

Section 95.11 of the Florida Statutes establishes the limitations period for many types of lawsuits. Subsection (3)(c) of that law says that a lawsuit based upon the “design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property” must be brought within four year of the “date of completion or termination of the contract” (whichever is later) when the improvement involves work by a professional engineer, licensed contractor, or registered architect.

Based upon that law and the timing of the marina’s lawsuit, the trial court threw out the case as too late. The marina appealed, though, and it won. The key to the marina’s ultimate success was an additional part of Subsection (3)(c). That latter sentence clarified that, if the defect was a latent one, the four-year statute of limitations only starts running when the injured party became aware of, or should have become aware of, the defect.

When it comes to arguments regarding a defect’s being latent or not, a defect’s obviousness can be an important point. If it is obvious that a problem is a result of a defect, the four-year limitations period starts running, regardless of whether or not the property owner has actual knowledge of the exact nature of the defect. On the other hand, if a manifestation could be a result of a latent defect or reasonably could be a result of something other than an “actionable defect,” the statute of limitations doesn’t start.

In the marina’s case, it had sufficient proof that called into question the obviousness of the manifestation that appeared in its slab. In circumstances like these, a determination of whether the marina was “on notice” for the purposes of the statute of limitations was something that a jury should make, the appeals court’s opinion stated.

Whether your case pivots on an evidentiary issue, an expert witness issue, a statute of limitations issue, or something else, it pays to have experienced counsel handling your case. The diligent South Florida real estate litigation attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon have long been helping businesses protect their interests and are ready to get to work for you.

Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you protect your interests.

More blog posts:

‘Continuing’ Torts and the Statute of Limitations in Florida Tortious Interference Cases, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Nov. 29, 2016

Limitations Period Trips Up Florida Creditor in Fraudulent Transfer Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Aug. 26, 2016