What is a Statute of Repose?

Mary McMahon

A statute of repose is a law that sets a time limit for certain types of legal claims. If people fail to act within that time limit, their right to file suit is eliminated. Statutes of repose and statutes of limitations are very similar concepts, except that the former is much more strict. There are circumstances that can extend a statute of limitations to provide opportunities for filing suits, while a statute of repose cannot be extended.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

A typical statute of repose is set in motion as soon as an action, such as finishing a construction project or designing a product, is completed. For instance, it is not uncommon to see a statute of repose of 10 years for construction defects. This means that as long as someone files suit about a construction problem within 10 years of the time the structure was built, the suit will be valid. In the 11th year, however, it is no longer possible to file a claim.

Critics of these laws argue that they can put people at a disadvantage. Someone may buy a home without being aware of the statute of repose or a problem, for example, or a defect may only be discovered after the time has already run out. With statutes of limitations, the clock usually starts ticking when the issue is identified, rather than from the moment something is created, and this provides more leeway.

Proponents say that while it is important to hold people and companies legally liable for their actions, liability cannot be infinite. A manufacturer of cars should not have to worry, for example, about defects that only manifest in cars over 30 years old. If people had unlimited chances to sue, they might also be inclined to wait on certain types of suits if this is to their advantage. This would put companies at a disadvantage.

Also known as a non-claim statute, a statute of repose can sometimes conflict with a statute of limitations. In the example of a vehicle, someone might get into an accident and be injured by a faulty seat belt. Under the statute of limitations, the people will have a set amount of time from the point at which the defective seat belt is noticed to file suit. However, under a statute of repose, the suit must be filed within a set number of years since the seat belt was manufactured. If the accident falls outside the statute of repose, the car manufacturer may argue that it is no longer liable.

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