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Greczyn v. Colgate-Palmolive

367 N.J. Super. 385, 842 A.2d 895 (App. Div. 2004)

CONTRACTORS; STATUTE OF REPOSE—Unlike a statute of limitations, the ten- year statute of repose for construction claims bars substituting the actual name of a defendant for a “John Doe” defendant if such an amendment is made more than ten years after the cause of action has accrued.

An employee tripped and fell on a staircase at her office and brought suit against the company that built the staircase. At the time she filed suit, the company’s identity was unknown to her, so she named defendants John Does, 1 through 20, and ABC Corps., 1 through 20. During discovery, she learned the name of the company and filed a motion to amend her complaint to substitute that company as a defendant.

The staircase had been completed more than ten years before the company was identified. Thus, the staircase company moved for summary judgment, relying upon the ten-year construction statute of repose found in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1. In short, this statute provides that no action for damages relying on a deficiency in design or construction can be brought against the designer or builder more than ten years after the completion of the construction. The court distinguished this statute of repose from a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations computes the period within which an action must be commenced from the growth of the cause of action. A statute of repose, however, operates without regard to the accrual of a cause of action. Specifically, it does not bar a cause of action. Instead, the harm that has been done “is a wrong for which the law affords no redress.” Under the construction statute of repose, an injury occurring more than ten years after the performance of the negligent act simply forms no basis for recovery.

The employee claimed that because her original complaint was filed within the ten-year period, it didn’t matter that the true name of the defendant was substituted after the ten years had expired. The Appellate Division held that although this would hold true in statute of limitation cases, it does not hold true in cases dealing with a statute of repose. The purpose of the statute of repose is to give relief and peace of mind to contractors and architects. The Court held that if amended pleadings were allowed to relate back in such cases, it would have the improper effect of reactivating a cause of action that the Legislature intended to eliminate.

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