As set forth in the attached order, The Supreme Court of the United States will NOT review the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court upholding legislation by the Minnesota state legislature that revives long-extinguished design defect liability arising from the 2007 collapse of a portion of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis.Prior to the collapse, Minnesota’s “statute of repose” (a statute that limits the time during which an action can arise) for design defects was 15 years. Despite the fact that the design work for the bridge in question was performed in the mid-1960’s, and despite the fact that the designer of record — Sverdup & Parcel and Associates, Inc. — had been bought out by Jacobs Engineering in 1999, the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari means that Minnesota is now free to pursue $37 million in indemnity claims against Jacobs Engineering that had expired under the 15-year statute no later than the early 1980’s.
This is a scary outcome for participants in the construction industry, with potential insurance, contract drafting and document retention repercussions. I’ll be back in the days ahead with additional analysis. In the interim, you can read AGC’s brief in favor of review here, which sets forth quite eloquently the reasons why the Supreme Court should have reviewed and reversed the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision.
UPDATE (5/29/12 1:38 p.m.): Coverage from Engineering News & Record can be found here.
5 responses to “BREAKING: U.S. Supreme Court OK’s Revival of Time-Barred Defect Claims By Legislative Fiat”
Pingback: Yikes! Supreme Court Sets Table for Construction Law Meltdown / The Builders Counsel: A Construction Law Blog from Washington Construction Lawyer & LEED AP Douglas S. Reiser
Thanks for the pingback, Doug!
This wasn’t a design issue it was a Maintenance Issue. The State of Minnesota should have performed inspections of sufficient frequency, on the bridge, which would have identified any problem areas and allowed for their repair prior to the collapse of the structure. This will set a precedent in that because construction liability is now not time barred in terms of a statute of limitations for filing lawsuits. Who do you think will ultimately pick up this tab, yes you got it the tax payers. But guess whose pockets will get lined in the process; yes you got it the Lawyers. It would appear that a course in “common sense” was not included in the Law School curriculum where the Supreme Court Justices went to Law School.
Thanks for the comment, John. Your perspective very neatly mirrors one of the arguments AGC made in asking SCOTUS to review the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court: “Modern structures, whether a bridge, a building, a water main, or some other construct, have very long lifespans and can last for many decades. Yet all physical structures inevitably deteriorate over time, and they do so more rapidly if they are not properly maintained. … Statutes of repose recognize that it can be unfair to expose the designer or builder to liablity many years after it has ceased to have any control over the structure.”
Thank you for a great blog post and links; this is a frightening analysis! Fairness dictates that liabilty is resolved at some point; plus, as the other commentator references, the State is responsible for inspections and maintenance. I have to wonder what the design fees were in the 1960’s vis-a-vis the potential liability! In a day or so, I plan to post a link to this article on my website. Thanks again!