On June 16, 2015, Governor Rick Scott signed into law House Bill 87, which was designed to make dramatic changes to Chapter 558 of the Florida Statutes, which relates to construction defect claims. House Bill 87 takes effect October 1, 2015.
The signification aspects of this amendment are as follows:
Section 558.001 is amended to permit insurers to participate in confidential settlement negations prior to litigation to allow for swifter resolution of claims without resort to further legal process.
Section 558.002 revamps the definition of “completion of a building improvement” to include structures issued temporary certificates of occupancy that allows for occupancy or use of the entire building or improvement.
Section 558.004(1)(B), which concerns notice of claims, now sets forth additional requirements. A construction defect claimant must now identify the specific location of each alleged construction defect, as well as the specific sections of the building code, project plans, drawings, specifications, or any other documentation that serves as the basis of the claim for the alleged defect. The notice of the claim must identify the foregoing information sufficiently to enable the responding party to locate the alleged defect without undue burden.
The new law further amends Chapter 558.004 to require the party accused of wrongdoing to file a written response to the claim, which response must include one or more of the statements laid out in Section 550.004(5)(a)-(e), which, in essence, require the responding party to state if it disputes the claim and if it is willing to attempt to settle the claim and how—whether through a monetary settlement, providing repairs, or any other method permissible under this section. Section 550.004(5)(a)-(e) was not amended.
Finally, the Bill amended 558.004(15) to add certain documents to the list of documents that must be exchanged upon receipt of a written request. The list now includes maintenance records and other documents related to the discovery, investigation, causation, and extent of the defect alleged, as well as resulting damages. However, a party may, of course, still assert a claim of privilege recognized under Florida law.
The changes to this particular construction defect statue were intended to streamline the pre-suit claims process, and provide an avenue for pre-suit resolution of claims that would, hopefully, decrease litigation. A related statute, House Bill 501, which its crafters intended to significantly limit construction claims, died during the 2015 legislative session. It is not anticipated to be taken up in the special session.