Generally, a product liability case in Florida must be brought within four years from the time that the facts giving rise to the cause of action were discovered or should have been discovered through due diligence. Section 95.031, Florida Statutes. To prevent product manufacturers, sellers, and distributors from being liable for their products for perpetuity, the Florida legislature passed a statute of repose for product liability cases. The statute of repose provides that a person may not file an action based on product liability more than twelve (12) years after the delivery of the product to its first purchaser or lessee who was not engaged in the business of selling the product, leasing the product, or using the product as a component part to manufacture another product. This statute of repose only applies to products with an expected useful life of ten (10) years or less, but all products other than those specifically excepted in the statute are conclusively presumed to have a useful life of ten (10) years or less. The exceptions include “improvement to real property, including elevators and escalators.”
What does and does not constitute an improvement to real property is a common issue. The Third District recently considered whether a pool filter was an improvement to real property in the case of Dominguez v. Hayward Industries, Inc. The case arose when a swimming pool filter exploded, and a man suffered a severe head injury. The pool and filter had been installed on December 20, 1999, and the injury occurred on November 17, 2012.
The man and his wife sued the filter manufacturer and distributor, the installer and intermediate distributor, and the certified pool contractor. The couple sued the manufacturer and distributor and installer and intermediate distributor in strict liability. They sued the contractor for negligence. Additionally, there was a count for loss of consortium.
The defendants argued that the claims were barred by the statute of repose. They specifically argued that the statute of repose applied and the “improvements to real property” exception did not apply because the filter was a component part. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiffs appealed.
The statute of repose does not provide a definition for “improvements to real property.” Florida and other jurisdictions have explored what is meant by “improvements,” and the Third District reviewed a number of those cases. The district court considered the Black’s Law Dictionary definition that had been relied upon by the Florida Supreme Court in a 1969 case. That definition states that an improvement is more than repairs or replacement of waste. It is instead a “valuable addition” to the property that is intended to enhance the value, beauty, or utility of the property, or adapt it to new purposes. Black’s Law Dictionary, 890 (4th ed. rev. 1969). The district court noted that, in Florida, a product keeps “its fundamental characteristics when it is connected to real property.” In various cases in Florida, water heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, lights, and cabinets have all been found to be personalty rather than fixtures. Other jurisdictions have also found that component parts are not “improvements” to real property.
The Third District found that the pool filter was a component part of the swimming pool and not an improvement to real property under the plain meaning of the statute and in accordance with previous decisions regarding the meaning of “improvement.” The filter had been delivered more than 12 years before the plaintiff suffered the injuries. The plaintiffs’ claims were therefore barred by the statute of repose. The appeals court affirmed the trial court.
If a defective product has injured you, the knowledgeable South Florida product liability attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can review the facts of your case to determine if there may be an issue with the statute of limitations or the statute of repose. Act quickly and call 800-747-3733 or submit an online “Contact Us” form to schedule a consultation.
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