Suppose you’re an architect hired to design a new condominium development in a township. The township approved your plans, and the development is built and occupied more than three years ago. Four years go by since you stopped providing services without a whisper of a problem. But then your firm is served with a lawsuit alleging that a defect in your design caused an injury. Is the suit barred by the statute of limitations?
This scenario leads us into the once-murky world of architectural-malpractice limitations periods. Prior to 2006, two Michigan statutes (and two published cases interpreting those statutes) provided conflicting limitations periods for claims against architects. In the first case, the Michigan Supreme Court held that MCL § 600.5839(1) operated as a six-year statute of limitations and a statute of repose. In the second case, the Court of Appeals held that the two-year malpractice statute of limitations from MCL § 600.5805 applied in cases against architects, and the other statute was only a statute of repose.
In 2006, the Michigan Supreme Court sought to address the conflict, again ruling that MCL § 600.5839(1) provided a six-year limitations and repose period. But the Legislature effectively overruled the Supreme Court by amending MCL § 600.5805 in 2012. That legislation provided that claims “against a state licensed architect or professional engineer . . . arising from professional services rendered” are actions charging malpractice, which are subject to a two-year limitations period. The change relegated MCL § 600.5839 to providing merely a repose period.
Now, measuring the deadlines for architectural-malpractice claims is similar to analyzing the deadlines for legal-malpractice claims. Three time periods are at play:
- The latter of two years from the date of last service, or
- Six months from when the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered, a possible claim against the architect, but in no event, more than
- Six years from the date of occupancy.
What this means for architects
So let’s go back to the claim against you—filed more than three years after the condo’s date of occupancy and four years after you last provided services on the project. It must be barred, right? Maybe not. Since six years haven’t elapsed since the date of occupancy, you won’t be able to take advantage of the statute of repose. But, since you last provided services on the project more than two years ago, the plaintiff won’t be able to satisfy the date-of-last-service rule. The issue will come down to when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the possible claim against you.
Collins Einhorn had recent success on a claim with similar facts. We were able to show that more than six months before she filed suit, plaintiff knew of the existence and source of her injury—an alleged defect in the building. But plaintiff said she didn’t discover the identity of the architect of the project until just a month before she filed suit. We argued that plaintiff “should have known” the identity of the architect, by a simple act of due diligence. Namely, all plaintiff had to do was send an FOIA request to the township for the building-department records. There, the name of the architect was clearly available on the building plans. The judge agreed and dismissed the architect from the case based on the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Although three separate time periods need to be analyzed, professional-malpractice claims against architects are now much easier to analyze and defend on statute-of-limitations grounds than they used to be.