Florida courts have always been clogged with construction litigation cases where the plaintiff is alleging something was not built right, designed right and eventually broke. In an effort to reduce these cases from the court’s docket, the Florida Legislature created Florida Statute 558 which states:
558.001 Legislative findings and declaration.—The Legislature finds that it is beneficial to have an alternative method to resolve construction disputes that would reduce the need for litigation as well as protect the rights of property owners. An effective alternative dispute resolution mechanism in certain construction defect matters should involve the claimant filing a notice of claim with the contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or design professional that the claimant asserts is responsible for the defect, and should provide the contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or design professional, and the insurer of the contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or design professional, with an opportunity to resolve the claim through confidential settlement negotiations without resort to further legal process.
The statute describes a construction defect as: a deficiency in, or a deficiency arising out of, the design, specifications, surveying, planning, supervision, observation of construction, or construction, repair, alteration, or remodeling of real property resulting from:
(a) Defective material, products, or components used in the construction or remodeling;
(b) A violation of the applicable codes in effect at the time of construction or remodeling which gives rise to a cause of action pursuant to s. 553.84;
(c) A failure of the design of real property to meet the applicable professional standards of care at the time of governmental approval; or
(d) A failure to construct or remodel real property in accordance with accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike construction at the time of construction.
As officers and directors of condominium associations, often times you become aware of defects that you wish to place the developer on notice of. For you, there is actually an added step you need to be aware of:
Florida Statute 718.301 states:
(7) In any claim against a developer by an association alleging a defect in design, structural elements, construction, or any mechanical, electrical, fire protection, plumbing, or other element that requires a licensed professional for design or installation under chapter 455, chapter 471, chapter 481, chapter 489, or chapter 633, such defect must be examined and certified by an appropriately licensed Florida engineer, design professional, contractor, or otherwise licensed Florida individual or entity.
Surprise, Surprise, The Florida Legislature made it more difficult to proceed against a developer. Where have I seen that before?
So here is generally how it works when alleging a construction defect BEFORE YOU ARE ALLOWED TO PROCEED TO COURT:
The claimant shall, at least 60 days before filing any action, or at least 120 days before filing an action involving an association representing more than 20 parcels, serve written notice of claim on the contractor, subcontractor, supplier, or design professional;
The notice of claim must describe in reasonable detail the nature of each alleged construction defect and, if known, the damage or loss resulting from the defect. Based upon at least a visual inspection by the claimant or its agents, the notice of claim must identify the location of each alleged construction defect sufficiently to enable the responding parties to locate the alleged defect without undue burden.
Within 30 days after service of the notice of claim, or within 50 days after service of the notice of claim involving an association representing more than 20 parcels, the person served with the notice of claim under subsection (1) is entitled to perform a reasonable inspection of the property or of each unit subject to the claim to assess each alleged construction defect. An association’s right to access property for either maintenance or repair includes the authority to grant access for the inspection. The claimant shall provide the person served with notice under subsection (1) and such person’s contractors or agents reasonable access to the property during normal working hours to inspect the property to determine the nature and cause of each alleged construction defect and the nature and extent of any repairs or replacements necessary to remedy each defect.
The inspection may include destructive testing by mutual agreement under certain reasonable terms and conditions.
Within 45 days after service of the notice of claim, or within 75 days after service of a copy of the notice of claim involving an association representing more than 20 parcels, the person who was served the notice under subsection (1) must serve a written response to the claimant. The response shall be served to the attention of the person who signed the notice of claim, unless otherwise designated in the notice of claim. The written response must provide:
(a) A written offer to remedy the alleged construction defect at no cost to the claimant, a detailed description of the proposed repairs necessary to remedy the defect, and a timetable for the completion of such repairs;
(b) A written offer to compromise and settle the claim by monetary payment, that will not obligate the person’s insurer, and a timetable for making payment;
(c) A written offer to compromise and settle the claim by a combination of repairs and monetary payment, that will not obligate the person’s insurer, that includes a detailed description of the proposed repairs and a timetable for the completion of such repairs and making payment;
(d) A written statement that the person disputes the claim and will not remedy the defect or compromise and settle the claim; or
(e) A written statement that a monetary payment, including insurance proceeds, if any, will be determined by the person’s insurer within 30 days after notification to the insurer;
If the person served with a notice of claim pursuant to subsection (1) disputes the claim and will neither remedy the defect nor compromise and settle the claim, or does not respond to the claimant’s notice of claim within the time allowed, the claimant may, without further notice, proceed with an action against that person for the claim described in the notice of claim.
A claimant who receives a timely settlement offer must accept or reject the offer by serving written notice of such acceptance or rejection on the person making the offer within 45 days after receiving the settlement offer. If a claimant initiates an action without first accepting or rejecting the offer, the court shall stay the action upon timely motion until the claimant complies with this subsection.
As the statute itself indicates, its purpose was to take cases out of the courtroom. The truth however, is that there is often a tremendous amount of legal fighting and wrangling in court, with all parties accusing the other of failing to comply with the technical terms of the statute.
In any event, this area of the law is complicated and always evolving. That is why The Florida Bar has created Board Certification in this area and I am one of only 381 attorneys in Florida to be Board Certified in Construction Law. With my background in biology, chemistry and physics, I am able to assist in translating information between my clients, their engineers and the court. .Before you sue, threaten to sue or get sued, let’s talk.