Products liability cases often implicate what is known as the statute of repose. A statute of repose is sort of like a statute of limitations. In products liability cases, the statute of repose works a bit differently than a normal statute of limitations. In normal cases, the statute of limitations is the amount of time you have after an accident or injury to file a lawsuit. But in product liability cases, there is a statute of repose. In those cases, the time to file a lawsuit starts running from the day the product was acquired or installed. To make things even more confusing, different types of products have different time limits.
Such was the case for Ryan and Jessica Dominguez. On November 17, 2012, Ryan Dominguez suffered a severe head injury when his swimming pool filter suddenly and inexplicably exploded. In late 2012, the coupld sued Hayward Industries, Inc. and Certified Gunite Company for strict products liability and negligence. (They also sued the pool contractor for negligence. But for the purposes of clarity, that lawsuit will not be discussed here). Hayward Industries was the manufacturer and distributor of the swimming pool filter and Certified Gunite Company, d/b/a/ Custom Pools, was the intermediate distributor and installer. The filter was delivered and put into place on December 20, 1999.
The Dominguez’s products liability lawsuit may have been successful if not for the fact that too many years had elapsed since they purchased the product in question. Florida Statutes § 95.031(2)(b) placed a 12-year time limit on bringing a strict products liability lawsuit for all products that had an expected shelf life of 10 years or less that ultimately caused death or serious bodily injury. Under the law, most products are presumed to have a maximum of a 10-year shelf life. But the Dominguez’s hung their hopes on Subparagraph 1 to the statute which held “improvements to real property” were not subject to the 12-year statute of limitation (or as Florida law calls it, “statute of repose”). And so the question became this: Is a swimming pool filter an “improvement to real property”?
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals said no. First, it looked at the definition of “improvement” in Black’s Law Dictionary and found an improvement to be an addition to property that is more than a repair or replacement of waste and adds to the value, utility, or beauty of the property. The court cited case law which further deepened and clarified the line between improvements and repairs. Second, the court went further, examining the difference between “products” and “improvements”. Although many appliances – such as dishwashers, washing machines, and air conditioners – may be considered as “improvements” as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, they were ultimately held to be “products”. This is because Florida case law found goods that are attached to real property are classified as products if they continue to maintain their fundamental characteristics even after they are attached to the real property. So, refrigerators, water heaters, and even underground water and sewer systems were all held to be “products” and not “improvements”.
In regard to the Dominguez’s exploding swimming pool filter, the court found it to be a component product to the swimming pool. It also found the filter could not be classified as an improvement based on the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of “improvement” and the plain meaning of the language contained in Florida Statutes § 95.031(2)(b)(1).
Therefore, the court held the strict products liability lawsuit brought by the Dominguez’s was time-barred by the Florida statute of repose. The filter had been delivered and installed into the couple’s swimming pool back in December 20, 1999. Ryan Dominguez had sustained a severe head injury from an explosion caused by that same swimming pool filter in November of 2012. By doing the math, more than 12 years had passed since the installation of the swimming pool filter and the injury it caused. And the Dominguez’s had missed their opportunity for a strict products liability lawsuit by roughly one year.
If you think you can bring a strict liability action against a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, you have to check and see if your cause of action is time-barred by the statutes of repose. And while Florida law allows some exceptions to these time limits, chances are courts will construe these exceptions very narrowly.