In Bridgwood v. A.J. Wood Construction Inc., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that consumers are limited to six years to sue contractors for defective construction work over unfair business practices under the home improvement contractor and consumer protection laws.
Importantly, the SJC also held that the statute of repose applies to G.L.c.93A, the consumer protection law, and violations began as soon as the work was substantially completed, not when the defect was ultimately discovered.
Under the Massachusetts Statute of Repose, an owner has six years to bring a tort-based claim or it is forever barred. The Statute of Repose provides that customers cannot sue a contractor for negligence (and often breaches of implied warranty) more than six years after a construction site is 1) opened for use or 2) reaches substantial completion, whichever comes first.
In the Bridgwood case, a homeowner brought a claim against her general contractor and a subcontractor which had been hired to renovate her home. The work was completed in 2001.
Eleven years later, the house caught fire due to faulty electrical wiring, and the homeowner claimed that the contractor also violated building code regulations and electrical permitting requirements.
In 2016, the homeowner filed a lawsuit against the contractors alleging violations of G.L.c. 142A, the Home Improvement Contractors Act (“HIC”). If proved, an HIC violation is automatically a violation of G.L.c.93A, which could entitle the homeowner to three times her damages, as well as attorney fees.
The SJC considered whether a claim that the contractor committed an unfair or deceptive act under G.L.c.93A, was barred by the six-year Statute of Repose when the claim was brought 15 years after the work was completed. The Statute of Repose helps contractors because it “is an absolute limitation which prevents a cause of action from accruing after a certain period.” The SJC held that the claim under G.L.c. 93A was “indistinguishable from a claim of negligence,” and the Statute of Repose barred the homeowner from bringing her claims more than six years after the work was completed.
Accordingly, the latest the homeowner could have filed suit was in 2007.
This decision brings clarity to the time frame in which claims under the Home Improvement Contract Act and G.L.c.93A can be brought. If you are involved in a lawsuit involving claims of defective work or violations of this law, or any laws, it is imperative to assess all of your rights and defenses at the beginning of the lawsuit, including when the work was completed and the case filed.