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How Long Do You Have to Sue a Design or Construction professional? It’s Not So Clear

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In many construction projects, or improvements to real property there are a lot of professionals involved. These can include architects, engineers, and designers. And when something goes wrong, if you are the one who is harmed by professional malpractice, you certainly have the right to sue. But there is some conflict in the law, as far as how long you actually have to file your lawsuit.

Two or Four Years? It’s Not Clear

On the surface, this should be an easy problem to solve. Just look to see what the statute of limitations is to sue for professional malpractice.

The law says that there is a two year statute of limitations for these kinds of lawsuits. That should settle this question pretty easily. But it doesn’t.

That’s because the law also says that someone has four years to sue, when the lawsuit is based on “the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property.”

So if you have to sue a professional for professional malpractice and that professional provided services to you that were related to design, planning or construction, what is the time limit that you have to sue? Two or four years?

Only One District Court Opinion

Only one district court has actually looked at this inherent contradiction in the law in a lawsuit that alleged that an engineering firm’s malpractice led to the death of a construction worker that was working on a construction project.

On the one hand, the lawsuit was for professional malpractice, but on the other hand, the lawsuit was also for design, planning or construction.

To resolve the issue of which time period in which statute actually applied to the situation, the court first looked at which statute was more specifically tailored to the question.

The two year statute of limitations applied to any kind of professional malpractice which could encompass any number of professionals. But the four year statute of limitations specifically addressed the construction and design industry, making it more specifically focused on the legal issue in the case. Thus, the court found, the longer four year statute of limitations, applied.

Still an Open Question

Remember that this was only one case, out of one district in the state of Florida (the third district, which does not control any of the tri county area). That means that if the matter were to be challenged, it could be decided differently, at least until the Florida Supreme Court settled the question—if they ever do.

It should also go without saying that because of this ambiguity if you have a lawsuit or claim against any professional, or anybody in the design or construction industry, that you shouldn’t wait to speak to legal counsel. To be safe, the assumption should be that you have less time to decide the matter, not more.

If you have a lawsuit against any type of professional, don’t wait to get help. Call the West Palm Beach business litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig today.




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