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Many of my valued clients are in the construction trades. When facing claims of construction defects, it is important for contractors to know their rights and the defenses available to them. One important limitation on a contractor’s liability for construction defects is called the Slavin Doctrine, so named after the 1959 Florida Supreme Court’s opinion in Slavin v. Kay.
The Slavin Doctrine holds that a contractor is relieved of liability caused by a patent defect after the control of the completed premises has been turned over to the owner. This rule has also been applied to architects and engineers. The Slavin Doctrine is based upon the principle that it would be unfair to hold the contractor responsible for patent defects after the owner has accepted the improvement and undertaken its maintenance and repair.”
Florida Courts have held the Slavin Doctrine as a reasonable limitation on the liability of contractors. Thus, if someone is injured due to a contractor’s defective construction but the construction has been accepted by the owner who knows or should know of the defect; the property owner and not the contractor may be liable to the injured person. The Slavin Doctrine extinguishes the liability of a contractor for a patent defect by shifting to the accepting owner the duty of care that the contractor originally owed to others.
Chapter 558 of the Florida Statutes provides even further protections to construction contractors from claims of defective workmanship. The statute was passed in 2003 because the legislature found that an alternative method to resolve construction dispute would reduce the need for litigation. In point of fact, the statute makes it more difficult for homeowners to sue their contractors to remedy construction defects.
To take advantage of the statute, the contractor must employ a written contract containing the written notice found in Florida Statute § 558.004. The precise language contained in the statute should be used and the contractor should resist the temptation to shorten or change the notice. If the contractor inserts the notice into the construction contract, the landowner alleging contraction defects must first provide written notice of the alleged defects at least sixty days before filing suit or demanding arbitration.