Anyone who undertakes construction of a building or other improvement to real property in the District of Columbia must worry about defects in planning, engineering, materials or construction errors. An owner of real property may wish to seek compensation from a party whose services in the construction of the improvement were materially defective. A person who uses or occupies the property may also have an interest in seeking damages for a defect in the construction of the improvement. For such people, the District statute limiting the time in which such claims can be brought has vital significance.
The statute of limitation
The most common limitation for most people is the statute of limitation on claims for bodily injury or wrongful death. This limit in most cases is three years from the date on which the right to make a claim accrues. With some exceptions, the date on which the cause of action accrues is generally the date on which the injury was suffered.
The statute of repose
A more comprehensive limitation is provided by the time limit known as the statute of repose. This ten-year limit applies primarily to claims for death or injury arising out of defective or unsafe improvements to real property. Unlike the statute of limitation which provides a limit on individual claims, the statute of repose is a ten-year period that applies to any and all claims that may result from the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to a particular piece of real property. The time limit on claims covered by the statute of repose begins to run on the date that the improvement in question was “substantially completed.” When the 10-year repose period expires, all claims for damages caused by defects in the design or construction of the property are barred.
What is “substantial completion”?
The D.C. statute of repose defines “substantial completion” as the date on which the property is first used or is made available for use. This definition is not always clearly applicable, and much litigation has resulted from the law’s lack of clarity.
Determining when the statute of repose bars a claim can be a complicated legal inquiry. Anyone who is involved in a case in which the statute of repose may determine the outcome should contact an experienced construction attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an opinion on whether and how the statute of repose may apply.