Every legal action for damages caused by the negligence of another person in Tennessee has a limit on the time period in which the action must be commenced. Several different periods apply to claims for damages or injuries arising from a defect in the design or construction of real property. This post will explore two limitation periods that apply most often to improvements to real estate. These are the statute of limitation and the statute of repose.
Defining the statutes of repose and limitation
Tennessee has two statutes of limitation for claims arising out of the negligence in the design or construction of real property.
- The statute of limitation. A claim for personal injury based upon the negligence of a designer, builder or suppliers must be commenced within one year after the cause of action accrues or becomes known to the injured person. A claim for damage to real or personal property that does not involve personal injury must be commenced within three years after the claim accrues.
- The statute of repose. The statute of repose bars all claims of any nature within four years after the property has been substantially completed. “Substantial completion” means “that degree of completion of a project, improvement or a specified improvement, or a specified area or portion thereof (in accordance with the contract documents, as modified by any change orders agreed to by the parties) upon attainment of which the owner can use the same for the purpose for which it was intended. . .” The limitation period can apply to an addition or modification of an otherwise completed building.
The significant difference between the statute of limitation and the statute of repose is how the limitation period is defined. The statute of limitation depends upon what the claimant knows: the limitation period begins to run when the injured person becomes aware of the injury. The statute of repose, on the other hand, begins to run when the project is completed. When the statute of repose expires, all persons know that no more claims can be made against the property.
The purpose of the limitation period is to ensure that all claims are made on a timely basis. The statute of repose is intended to cut off all claims relating to the property, thereby allowing the owner or anyone involved in the design and construction to sell the property without worrying about dormant claims.
Anyone who is facing a claim for personal injury or damage to property may find the advice of an experienced construction attorney to be very helpful. A knowledgeable lawyer can evaluate the evidence and suggest legal defenses to the claims. Likewise, someone who is considering making a claim for injury arising out of construction or modification of real property may find the advice of a capable lawyer very helpful in defining the claim and avoiding either the statute of limitation or the statute of repose.