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The Two Year Statute Of Limitations Applicable To Oral Contracts Applies To A Professional Negligence Claim Against An Architect And A Construction Manager

Surety and Construction Law Briefings

Summer 2001

Smith v. SHN Consulting Engineers & Geologists, Inc.
89 Cal.App.4th 638, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 424

The two year statute of limitations set forth in California Code of Civil Procedure §339, subd. (1) applies to a claim of delay damages arising from the professional negligence of an architect and construction manager.

In this case, a general contractor retained an architect and a construction manager to assist it in building a library.  The project was delayed and subject to increased costs due to errors in the architects plans and specifications and the construction managers failure to coordinate and inspect the project in a timely fashion.  The general contractor sued the architect and the construction manager for damages due to delay, alleging that their professional negligence  had increased the general contractors costs.  The architect and the construction manager successfully moved for summary judgment claiming that §339(1) applied to bar the complaint.  That section provides, in relevant part:  "[The periods prescribed for the commencement of actions are as follows:]  Within two years:  1.  An action upon a contract, obligation or liability not founded upon an instrument of writing...."

In affirming the courts ruling, the appellate court noted that §339, subd.(1) has been applied to claims for professional negligence.  In its appeal, the general contractor did not challenge the applicability of the section and did not dispute that its claim sought recovery for professional negligence.  Instead, the general contractor attempted to argue that §337.1, which provides for a period of limitation of four years from substantial completion, more specifically applied to its situation.

The court disagreed and noted that, while the general contractor claimed damages against the architect and the construction manager for delays in completion caused by patent defects, those  defects that were cured by the time of completion.  Section §337.1 does not apply to claims of injury based on patent defects that no longer exist as of the substantial completion of construction.

The court found that the general contractors cause of action for professional negligence accrued no later than the date of its letter to the construction manager stating that it had been Aseverely damaged by negligence of the architect and the construction manager.


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