Lee v. Moore Statutes of Limitations

By: Joshua Clarkson and Caroline Trautman

In Lee v. Moore NO. 01222016 (N.C. App. Unpub.) the North Carolina Court of Appeals considered the question of whether or not a homeowner’s claims against a contractor for breach of contract and negligent construction were barred by the three-year statute of limitations.  Despite claims by the homeowner that he was unaware of the defective work for many years, the Court held that the owner had been aware of the problems for more than three years and was therefore barred by the statute of limitations.

The case arose from repairs performed by the defendant, a local contractor, on the homeowner’s roof in August of 2010.  According to the allegations of the homeowner, he was unaware of any defects or problems with the work performed on the roof until 2014, at which time he had the entire roof replaced by a different company.  However, in October of 2010, two months after repairs by the Defendant, an engineer informed the homeowner that the shingles installed by the Defendant required removal and replacement. Despite the 2014 replacement, the homeowner alleged that his roof and surrounding windows were still in need of repair, which he claimed were caused by the Defendant.

Under North Carolina law, a claim for breach of contract must be brought within three years of the breach or the claim will be dismissed.  For this reason, the date of the “breach” is very important because the breach date is when the three-year clock starts.  For instance, if in this case, the date of the breach was when the contractor finished repairing the roof in 2010, then the homeowner’s suit for breach in 2015 would have been brought too late. Such a hardline rule requiring homeowners to discover the defect or “breach” so quickly in order to seek a remedy would make it very difficult for them to satisfy the statute of limitations. However, for actions such as those for breach of contract and/or negligent construction, which arise out of a defective or unsafe improvement to real property, the law provides an alternate “start time.”  In those situations, the statute of limitations starts when either the “injury, loss, defect or damage becomes apparent or ought reasonably to have become apparent” to the person claiming it.  However, North Carolina poses an additional time limit on such claims that is far less forgiving: the statute of repose.  The six-year statute of repose begins to run at the later of either substantial completion of construction or the last specific act of the defendant contractor.  The bottom line: a homeowner must satisfy both the six-year statute of repose and the three-year statute of limitations in order to bring a claim for breach of contract or negligent construction.

In the present case, the Court reasoned that the owner learned of the defect in question in 2010, less than two months after the defendant contractor had completed his repairs because, at that time, an engineer informed the homeowner about the defective work.  As a result, the three-year clock began to run, and the homeowner’s 2015 claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

If you have any questions about this article or any other legal issue, please contact Caroline Trautman or the attorneys of Anderson Jones, PLLC by email or (919) 277-2541.