The Supreme Court has recently provided a helpful clarification of the law in relation to negligent construction disputes. Traditionally, legislation has prescribed a 6-year time limit for property defect claims based on negligence. However, assessing when the 6-year time period commenced was far from straightforward.
The case involved Mr Brandley and WJB Developments Limited .v. Hubert Deane T/A Hubert Deane & Associates and John Lohan T/A John Lohan Ground Works Contractors. The Court of Appeal held unanimously that the developer’s proceedings were issued within time and were not statute barred and the Supreme Court, on appeal, gave Judgment on 15 November 2017.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the claim was not statute barred and stated that where no loss or damage arose out of a defect then no cause of action accrued. In this particular case, the damage was found to have manifested itself in December 2005 and the appropriate time limit ran from that date for six years.
The Supreme Court was keen to differentiate a manifestation of damage test from a discoverability test and that manifest meant on the date in which damage is capable of being discovered. The Supreme Court’s decision is now leading authority for the proposition that the limitation date commences for construction / property defect cases from the date of when the damage is manifest and was capable of being discovered.
Insurers and professionals in the construction industry should take note of the Supreme Court’s decision. In construction disputes, much will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each particular case to determine when damage becomes ‘manifest’. It is undoubtedly a helpful decision for Plaintiff homeowners who may not discover the defective construction work for several years after work was completed.
For more information, contact Ronan Hynes, Partner in Dispute Resolution Department on 061 432 348.