Product Liability

Statute of Repose

Statute of Repose

The Florida Supreme Court in West v. Caterpillar, 336 So. 2d 80 (Fla. 1976), adopted the doctrine of strict liability, making manufacturers, distributors and other entities within the chain of distribution strictly liable for injuries resulting from defective products. In response, the Florida legislature enacted a statute of repose, restricting or limiting product liability causes of action. The Florida Supreme Court has recognized the statute of repose is necessary because of the undue burden placed on manufacturers by strict liability principles. The statute prevents plaintiffs from using modern standards and expectations to impose perpetual liability on manufacturers and distributors for outdated products. See Pullum v. Cincinnati, Inc.  476 So. 2d 657, 659-660 (Fla. 1985). Thus, claimants are unable to argue a product was unreasonably dangerous when it had otherwise provided more than a decade of problem-free service.  The Florida Supreme Court has rejected challenges to the constitutionality of the statute of repose in product liability actions. See Kush v. Lloyd, 616 So. 2d 415, 422 (Fla. 1992) (holding that although applying a statute of repose effectively eliminates a cause of action before it accrues, the statutes are constitutional, and “this Court is not authorized to second guess the legislature’s judgment”).

The current statute of repose states in pertinent part:

Under no circumstances may a claimant commence an action for products liability, including a wrongful death action or any other claim arising from personal injury or property damage caused by a product, to recover for harm allegedly caused by a product with an expected useful life of 10 years or less, if the harm was caused by exposure to or use of the product more than 12 years after delivery of the product to its first purchaser or lessee who was not engaged in the business of selling or leasing the product or of using the product as a component in the manufacture of another product.  

Fla. Stat. § 95.031(2)(b) (2003) (emphasis added). The statute does not apply to commercial aircraft, railroad equipment and improvements to real property, including elevators and escalators. Id. In addition, the statute does not apply to products specifically warranted by the manufacturer to have an expected useful life longer than 10 years. Id. 

As the Florida Supreme Court has explained, there is a fundamental difference between a statute of limitations and a statute of repose:

Rather than establishing a time limit within which an action must be brought [as do statutes of limitation] measured from the time of accrual of the cause of action, these provisions [statutes of repose] cut off the right of action after a specified time measured from the delivery of a product . . . . They do so regardless of the time of the accrual of the cause of action or the notice of the invasion of a legal right.

Bauld v. J.A. Jones Constr. Co., 357 So. 2d 401, 402 (Fla. 1978). Thus, when a manufacturer is sued regarding a product over 12 years old, it may be protected by the statute of repose, even if the suit is filed before the expiration of the appropriate statute of limitation.