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153Ratification Number: 455Act Number: 412Introducing Body: SenateSubject: Relating to legal actions against architects, construction managers, professional engineers, or contractors for improper or negligent improvements to real property
(A412, R455, S153)
AN ACT AMEND SECTIONS 15-3-640, 15-3-660, 15-3-670, CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, RELATING TO LEGAL ACTIONS AGAINST ARCHITECTS, CONSTRUCTION MANAGERS, PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS, OR CONTRACTORS FOR IMPROPER OR NEGLIGENT IMPROVEMENTS TO REAL PROPERTY, SO AS TO SPECIFICALLY DESCRIBE ACTIONS BASED UPON OR ARISING OUT OF THE DEFECTIVE OR UNSAFE CONDITIONS OF AN IMPROVEMENT TO REAL PROPERTY WHICH MUST BE BROUGHT NO LATER THAN THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER COMPLETION; TO CREATE AN OUTSIDE LIMITATION OF THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER THE SUBSTANTIAL COMPLETION OF THE IMPROVEMENT WITHIN WHICH NORMAL STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS CONTINUE TO RUN; TO CORRECT AN INACCURATE CITATION; TO PROVIDE THAT A DEFENSE OF STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS SHALL NOT BE AVAILABLE TO OWNERS OF REAL PROPERTY OR TO PERSONS IN POSSESSION OR CONTROL THEREOF WHO HAVE KNOWLEDGE OR SHOULD HAVE HAD KNOWLEDGE OF THE DEFICIENCY IN SUCH PROPERTY OR TO PERSONS GUILTY OF FRAUD; TO PROVIDE THAT NO CAUSE OF ACTION NOT HERETOFORE EXISTING IS CREATED BY THIS ACT NOR DOES IT BAR ANY EXISTING CAUSE OF ACTION; AND TO REPEAL SECTION 15-3-650 RELATING TO ACTIONS AGAINST ARCHITECTS, PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS, OR CONTRACTORS THAT MUST BE BROUGHT WITHIN TWO YEARS AFTER THE DATE OF INJURY.
Whereas, the General Assembly finds that persons involved in improvements to real property are subject to the economic and emotional burdens of litigation and liability for an indefinite period of time upon allegations of defective or unsafe conditions; and
Whereas, the General Assembly finds it in the public interest to provide a measure of protection against claims and litigation arising years after substantial completion of an improvement to real property; and
Whereas, the General Assembly finds that substantial differences exist between improvements to real property and other activities for which liability may be alleged, including the fact that improvements to real property have lengthy useful lives and are utilized, changed, and affected by many people, forces, and things after completion; and
Whereas, the General Assembly finds it reasonable and necessary to distinguish between a person in actual possession or control of an improvement to real property and those otherwise involved in an improvement to real property, for the following reasons: because acceptance of some future responsibility for the condition of the premises is implied in the acceptance of an improvement to real property; because possession or control of the premises is a reasonable and fair basis for imposing some additional liability; because after the date of acceptance of the work by the owner, there exists the possibility of neglect, abuse, poor maintenance, mishandling, improper modification, or unskilled repair of an improvement; because owners and persons in control have the opportunity to avoid liability by taking care of the improvement and by regulating its use; and
Whereas, the General Assembly finds that any person who is guilty of fraud, gross negligence or recklessness, relative to an improvement to real property, should be distinguished from and classified differently from those who are guilty of less culpable breaches of duty; and
Whereas, the General Assembly finds it reasonable and necessary to establish a separate classification for personal injuries and property damages related to toxic substances, which are by their nature not discoverable in the exercise of reasonable diligence at the time of their occurrence and which are the result of ingestion of or exposure to some toxic or harmful or injury producing substance over a period of time, as opposed to resulting from a sudden and fortuitous trauma. Now, therefore,
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:
Time limitations on causes of action
SECTION 1. Section 15-3-640 of the 1976 Code is amended to read:
"Section 15-3-640. No actions to recover damages based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property may be brought more than thirteen years after substantial completion of such an improvement. For purposes of this section, an action based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property includes:
(1) an action to recover damages for breach of a contract to construct or repair an improvement to real property;
(2) an action to recover damages for the negligent construction or repair of an improvement to real property;
(3) an action to recover damages for personal injury, death, or damage to property;
(4) an action to recover damages for economic or monetary loss;
(5) an action in contract or in tort or otherwise;
(6) an action for contribution or indemnification for damages sustained on account of an action described in this subdivision;
(7) an action against a surety or guarantor of a defendant described in this section;
(8) an action brought against any current or prior owner of the real property or improvement, or against any other person having a current or prior interest in the real property or improvement;
(9) an action against owners or manufacturers of components, or against any person furnishing materials, or against any person who develops real property, or who performs or furnishes the design, plans, specifications, surveying, planning, supervision, testing, or observation of construction, or construction of an improvement to real property, or a repair to an improvement to real property.
This section describes an outside limitation of thirteen years after the substantial completion of the improvement, within which normal statutes of limitations continue to run.
Any building permit for the construction of an improvement to real property shall contain in bold type notice to the owner or possessor of the property of his rights under this section to contract for a guarantee of the structure being free from defective or unsafe conditions beyond thirteen years after substantial completion of the improvement. The Department of Consumer Affairs shall publish in conspicuous places the right of any owner or possessor to contract for such extended liability under this section. Nothing in this section shall prohibit any person from entering into any contractual agreement prior to the substantial completion of the improvement which extends any guarantee of a structure or component being free from defective or unsafe conditions beyond thirteen years after substantial completion of the improvement or component."
Section may not be construed as extending
SECTION 2. Section 15-3-660 of the 1976 Code is amended to read:
"Section 15-3-660. Nothing in Sections 15-3-640 through 15-3-670 may be construed as extending the period, or periods, provided by the laws of South Carolina, except by agreement between the parties for the bringing of any action."
SECTION 3. Section 15-3-670 of the 1976 Code is amended to read:
"Section 15-3-670. The limitation provided by Sections 15-3-640 through 15-3-660 may not be asserted as a defense by any person in actual possession or control, as owner, tenant, or otherwise, of the improvement at the time the defective or unsafe condition constitutes the proximate cause of the injury or death for which it is proposed to bring an action, in the event such person in actual possession or control knows, or reasonably should have known, of the defective or unsafe condition. The limitations provided by Sections 15-3-640 through 15-3-660 are not available as a defense to any person guilty of fraud, gross negligence, or recklessness in providing components in furnishing materials, in developing real property, in performing or furnishing the design, plans, specifications, surveying, planning, supervision, testing or observation of construction, construction of, or land surveying, in connection with such an improvement, or to any person who conceals any such cause of action. The limitation provided by Section 15-3-640 may not be asserted as a defense to any action for personal injury, including a personal injury resulting in death, or property damage which is (i) by its nature not discoverable in the exercise of reasonable diligence at the time of its occurrence and (ii) the result of ingestion of or exposure to some toxic or harmful or injury producing substance, element, or particle, including radiation, over a period of time as opposed to resulting from a sudden and fortuitous trauma."
Sections may not be construed as creating
cause of action
SECTION 4. Nothing in Sections 15-3-640 through 15-3-670 of the 1976 Code may be construed as creating any cause of action not heretofore existing or recognized or barring any cause of action existing or accrued on the effective date of this act.
SECTION 5. Section 15-3-650 of the 1976 Code is repealed.
SECTION 6. This act shall take effect upon approval by the Governor.