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How a Statute of Repose can Affect Your Claim in New Jersey
What is a Statute of Repose in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, a "statute of repose" is a legal concept that imposes a time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed against a defendant. Statute of reposes differ in every state, however, in general, each statute of repose provides a defense to claims being alleged by the claimant/plaintiff based on the passage of time. In New Jersey, the purpose of the statute of repose is to provide a measure, or repose, and prevent liability for life against contractors and architects. Hein v. GM Const. Co., Inc., 330 N.J. Super. 282 (App. Div. 2000).
In New Jersey, the statute of repose for claims involving injuries caused by unsafe/negligent construction or improvements to real property can be found in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1. New Jersey’s statute of repose states the following:
No action, whether in contract, in tort, or otherwise, to recover damages for any deficiency in the design, planning, surveying, supervision or construction of an improvement to real property, or for any injury to property, real or personal, or for an injury to the person, or for bodily injury or wrongful death, arising out of the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property . . . shall be brought against any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, surveying, supervision of construction or construction of such improvement to real property, more than 10 years after the performance or furnishing of such services and construction. This limitation shall serve as a bar to all such actions, both governmental and private, but shall not apply to actions against any person in actual possession and control as owner, tenant, or otherwise, of the improvement at the time the defective and unsafe condition of such improvement constitutes the proximate cause of the injury or damage for which the action is brought.
N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1. In other terms, New Jersey’s statute of repose states that when bringing an action arising out of a defective or unsafe condition that resulted in an injury, to a person or property, the action must be filed against the party who created, planned, surveyed, or supervised the construction of said condition within 10 years after the completion of the defective or unsafe condition.
This means that once 10 years have passed since the completion of the unsafe or defective condition that caused the injury, the party can no longer bring a lawsuit against that defendant for any injuries. “Regardless of whether the injury occurs within the ten year statute of repose period, a claim is barred unless the plaintiff’s complaint is filed within the statutory period . . . .” Port Imperial Condominium Ass’n, Inc. v. K. Hovnanian Port Imperial Urban Renewal, Inc., 419 N.J. Super. 459, 470 (App. Div. 2011). The statute of repose acts as a complete bar against any lawsuits being filed against the defendant that is responsible for the design, surveying, supervision, or construction of the unsafe or defective condition.
New Jersey’s Statute of Repose Nuances
When confronted with a party asserting the statute of repose as a defense against the lawsuit, there are a few nuances and details that the party bringing the action should be aware of.
First, it is important to note that the Defendant, or the party asserting that the statute of repose bars a claim against them, bears the burden of proof to show that the statute of repose can be properly applied in this situation. In doing so, the defendant must show three things: 1) that the injury was caused by an improvement to real property, 2) that the defendant designed, planned, supervised or constructed the improvement, and 3) that the improvement was not a standardized building product, but was specifically designed and fabricated to be an improvement to real property. Cherilus v. Federal exp., 435 N.J. Super. 172 (App. Div. 2014).
Next, when faced with a defendant asserting the statute of repose as a defense, it is important to determine the date when the 10 year period first started. In general, the calculation of the ten-year period for the statute of repose, “commences one day after issuance of the certificate of substantial completion for the project.” State v. Perini Corp., 221 N.J. 412, 427 (2015). The certificate of substantial completion is an industry term that is defined as, “‘the date when construction is sufficiently complete . . . so the owner can occupy or utilize the building.’” State v. Perini Corp., 221. N.J. 412, 427 (2015). While there are situations where the issuance of the certificate of substantial completion is not used to determine the date that the statute of repose’s ten-year period begins to run, these are typically situations that are analyzed on a case-by-case basis driven by the facts of the situation. Id.
How does a Statute of Repose Differ from a Statute of Limitations in New Jersey?
A statute of repose differs from a statute of limitations in that the statute of repose is an absolute time limit for bringing an action, regardless of when the cause of action arose. In other words, the statute of repose creates a specific time period in which a cause of action can be brought, and once that time period is lapsed, there is an absolute bar on bringing an action regardless of when the injury occurred.
On the other hand, a statute of limitations begins to run from the date a cause of action arose. The statute of limitations sets a time period for which a claimant can bring an action after the occurrence of the injury causing event. For example, if a plaintiff is bringing an action for injuries sustained from a car accident, the plaintiff will have two years from the date of the accident to bring a claim in New Jersey. If the lawsuit is not filed within two years from the date of the accident, then the claim can no longer be brought and the plaintiff is barred from asserting the claim. Meanwhile, the statute of repose does not depend on the date that the injury was caused but instead depends on the date of substantial completion of the injury causing condition.
In summary, a statute of repose bars a claim from being brought against a potentially liable party after a set period of time has lapsed after the substantial completion of the injury causing condition. While a statute of repose bars a claim from being brought against a potentially liable party after a set period of time has lapsed after the injury causing event.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have been injured but have yet to bring an action against the defendant, you may still be entitled to relief. If you have questions regarding obtaining relief and filing a claim, call the NJ law firm of Scura, Wigfield, Heyer, Stevens & Cammarota, LLP for a free consultation.
John fights hard for his clients and tries to educate them so they understand what is going on with their particular legal problem. John has been Certified by The Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Civil Trial Attorney. Whether it is a personal injury case, bankruptcy case, litigation case or other type of matter, John wants his clients to participate in the decision making process toward solving their problem in the best way possible.
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