Construction can be a frustrating process. Whether you’re building your dream home or renovating your business, the process can disrupt your life for months on end. When the project is finally over, you’re eager to settle back in and resume normalcy.

If you discover after the fact that there was a construction defect, however, you have a whole new headache to deal with. Under Tennessee Code Title 28, you have the right to file a claim against your contractor if you discover a construction defect within four years of substantial completion of the project. But what does “substantial completion” really mean?

A recent ruling by the Tennessee Court of Appeals defined this expression in more precise terms. In the case, a radiology facility filed a claim of defective construction because the construction company did not install the necessary lead shielding in the walls. Consequently, the plaintiffs claimed they were exposed to excessive radiation. While this case may seem like adequate cause to file a defective construction claim, the plaintiffs did not file their claim until eight years following the construction project. The argued, however, that because the walls did not have the protective shielding—which was a requirement of the construction project—that the project was not substantially complete.

The Court of Appeals viewed the matter otherwise. It determined that because the plaintiffs had been using the facility for its intended purpose in the intervening years prior to the lawsuit, the project was in fact substantially complete. This is an important decision, because it means that even if there is outstanding work on a project, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not substantially complete. The ruling places the responsibility on the individual who has paid for the construction to verify—in a timely manner—that the construction was completed correctly.