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Scott v. J. Bowers & Co., Inc.

A-5160-99T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2001) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTORS; STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS—A home buyer’s discovery of one kind of construction defect does not trigger an obligation to investigate the possibility of unrelated defects; hence, the statute of limitations does not run from the earlier discovery just because the buyer “should have known” of the later discovered defects.

In a construction dispute, the issue was whether the homeowner knew or should have known, as of 1988, of a cause of action because if that were the case, its complaint would have been barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Essentially, the lower court concluded that the appearance of “nail pops and minor settlement cracking” within the first heating season following construction of an addition to the existing house was sufficient “as a matter of law to place to a reasonable homeowner on notice of more serious problems so as to have required further inspection at that time.” The Appellate Division rejected the lower court’s conclusion. In fact, all of the witnesses before the lower court and the lower court judge agreed that such “conditions were normal, ordinary, unalarming conditions that routinely occur in the first year or so of new construction. Whether or not [the homeowner] observed them is immaterial. Even if they were or should have been observed, they are simply not the type of conditions that would place a reasonable homeowner, even one with a [set of punchlist problems] on notice of possible other, more serious, lurking problems.” Further, the Appellate Division rejected the lower court’s conclusion that a “sewer fiasco” which resulted in a letter from the homeowner “threatening litigation and expressing fear of other hidden defects,” triggered an obligation on the part of the homeowner to have a structural inspection of the building addition conducted. Essentially, the Court felt that the conditions complained of by the homeowner, including the “sewer fiasco” and the list of punchlist items were not the exact conditions that triggered the ultimate lawsuit. Therefore, the Court concluded that the nail pops and minor settling cracks discovered in 1988 provided knowledge of the 1994 conditions that the homeowner sought to litigate in 1994.

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