Law of the Land
Law of the Land
Between 2000 and 2002, homeowner Julie Hartigan hired Jeffrey Robinson, a contractor, to replace her home's roof and siding, and do several other home improvements and repairs. In 2001, Hartigan complained that the work was faulty, that her roof was leaking, insulation was improperly installed, and several other problems with Robinson's work had caused water damage to her home.
The same year, Robinson made efforts to correct some of the problems about which Hartigan had complained. In 2003, Hartigan again complained about similar problems with Robinson's workmanship, and Robinson again made some repair efforts.
From 2004 through 2007, Hartigan continued to complain to Robinson about leaks, water intrusion and mildew. At one point in 2006, Robinson came out to Hartigan's home and told her that the damage was being caused by her failure to clean the gutters, and told her he would arrange for another contractor to contact her about replacing the gutters.
In 2008, Hartigan filed suit against Robinson, alleging negligence, breach of warranty and a number of other causes of action. The trial court dismissed Hartigan's case, agreeing with Robinson's argument that Hartigan's case was barred by Minnesota's statute of limitations on lawsuits concerning home improvements.
Hartigan appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's dismissal of Hartigan's case.
The appellate court quoted the statute of limitations provision, the pertinent part of which reads as follows: "no action by any person in contract, tort, or otherwise to recover damages for any injury to property ... arising out of the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property, shall be brought against any person performing ... construction of the improvement to real property ... more than two years after discovery of the injury ..."
Because she was able to cite no precedential authority to support it, the appeals court rejected Hartigan's argument that even if her claims expired sometime after Robinson's last repair work on the property in 2003, Robinson's 2006 actions of coming over to her home, looking at the problem areas and stating that he would have another contractor replace the gutter, revived her claims.
Further, the court rejected Hartigan's claim that the statute of limitations did not bar her claims, because Robinson fraudulently concealed the fact that he had inadequately repaired her home. Although fraud does create an exception to the statute of limitations, to show fraud Hartigan would have to "establish that (1) the defendant made a statement that concealed plaintiff's potential cause of action, (2) the statement was intentionally false, and (3) the concealment could not have been discovered by reasonable diligence."
Hartigan was unable to prove that Robinson made a concealing statement because the work order from the 2003 repair efforts expressly stated that the worker only "caulked the areas he could." Because Robinson never attempted to convince Hartigan that the leak was repaired, Hartigan could not establish that Robinson had made any statement concealing her cause of action.
Even if he had made such a statement, the court explained, Hartigan could still not show fraudulent concealment because she was continually aware that her roof continued to leak.
As a result, Hartigan could not show any fraud that would carve out an exception for her claim from the statute of limitations.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's ruling that Hartigan's case was time-barred by the statute of limitations, and affirmed the lower court's dismissal of her case.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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