South Carolina Court of Appeals Issues New Statute of Limitations Opinion

Josh Bennett

In Allwin v. Russ Cooper Associates, Inc., Op. No. 5617 (S.C. Ct. App. filed January 16, 2019), a construction defect action was filed against the architectural firm and contractor of a beachfront home on Kiawah Island twenty years after the completion of construction. On appeal, the South Carolina Court of Appeals found the statute of limitations began to run upon notification of significant water intrusion into the home over a decade before commencement of the suit.

In 1994, the defendant contractor completed construction on a 11,000 sq. foot beachfront home designed by the defendant architectural firm. As early as 1999, a guest of the plaintiff homeowner began to complain of water intrusion issues resulting in extensive damage to interior elements of the home. Over the course of the next four years, the homeowner employed an overseer and a different contractor to make minor repairs to stem the water flow into the home. The new contractor recommended an extensive and costly roof repair, along with an overhaul of the patio on the exterior of the home. The overseer, however, advised the homeowners to seek a cheaper repair option with a more limited scope of work.

In early 2004, the new contractor advised the homeowner that the problems with the house were severe and that the statute of limitations was close to expiring for any action based on the improper construction of the roof. The homeowners continued to make increasingly expensive incremental repairs to the house until suit was initiated against the defendant contractor in 2013 and the defendant architect in 2014. All told, the homeowner paid upwards of $500,000 in repair costs.

The lower court granted a summary judgment motion in favor of the defendant contractor and architect citing, among other things, the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, holding the homeowner had received notice of potential claims against the defendants as early as 1999, fifteen years before the commencement of this action. The Court reasoned the homeowner knew, or should have known, a potential cause of action existed after repeated reports of defective construction of the roof and other elements of the home. While the homeowner contested that she had undertaken repair efforts throughout the time preceding this suit and that she was unaware of the extent of the damage, the Court found this information irrelevant and barred the homeowner’s claims.