On April 13, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 360, a bill to make significant changes to the state’s construction defect claims process. The new law, which goes into effect immediately, should provide some additional protections to those in the construction industry by shorting the time period for bringing design and construction defect claims, clarifying the application of these time periods on multi-building projects, and adding a “materiality” requirement to statutory claims for violation of Florida’s Building Code according to Fla. Stat. § 554.84.
How does this impact Florida Contractors?
- Shortened time period. The time period for bringing “known” claims remains 4 years but the time period is now deemed to have begun upon the earlier of various potential triggering events, rather than upon the occurrence of the last event, as was previously the case. Further, the statute of repose (which serves as an absolute deadline for bringing claims, and generally cannot be tolled or extended by lack of notice) reduces the time period for bringing a claim for design or construction defects from 10 years to 7 years after the completion of the project. In most instances, this will mean that building owners will be barred from bringing defect claims 7 years after the date of the project’s completion, even if the owner did not know or have reason to know of the defect.
- Multi-building projects. The new law will clarify the application of time periods on multi-building projects. This means that for projects consisting of multiple buildings, each building will now be considered a separate project for the purposes of the statute of limitations. Accordingly, each building will be treated as a separate “improvement” for purposes of determining the time period for bringing claims.
- “Materiality” requirement. The new law adds a “materiality” requirement to statutory claims for violation of Florida’s Building Code. This means that a claimant must demonstrate that a building code violation was a material factor in causing the alleged defect. This change is intended to prevent claims based on minor or insignificant code violations that do not actually impact the safety or habitability of the building. A code violation will only be deemed material if it “may reasonably result, or has resulted, in physical harm to a person or significant damage to the performance of a building or its systems.”
The passing of SB 360 marks an effort by Florida’s legislature to create a more workable framework for limiting potentially stale claims and hopefully will cut down on litigation whether older claims can even be maintained. The materiality requirement for building code violations is helpful because it requires claimants to demonstrate a more meaningful level of severity to support their claims. While there will likely be disputes as to whether a particular violation is “material” under the statute, the new language should serve to preclude claims based on technical violations involving limited damages.
As always, it is recommended that those involved in the construction industry in Florida seek legal counsel for any questions relating to this new legislation. Please feel free to reach out to me if I may be of assistance: email@example.com.