For most causes of action that might be asserted in a construction matter (breach of contract/negligence), South Carolina’s statute of limitations is 3 years. (S.C. Code Ann. 15-3-530). South Carolina has adopted the discovery rule – the statute of limitations begins to run from when the claimant knew, or through the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known that he might have a claim.
South Carolina’s appellate courts have adopted some excellent decisions applying the statute of limitations in construction cases. The courts have consistently held that the claimant does not have to know exactly what his claims might be, only that some claim may exist. The claimant then must undertake an investigation to determine if he has a claim and who he might need to assert the claim against.
The South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in Dean v. Ruscon Corp., 321 S.C. 360, 468 S.E.2d 645 (1996) is an example. In November 1984, Dean observed a fine crack at the front of her Charleston building which she attributed to Ruscon’s nearby pile driving activities at the Omni hotel site. Dean hired consultants to examine the crack who recommended monitoring with a crack gauge. Subsequently, in the summer of 1985, Ruscon resumed pile driving, which caused enlargement of the crack and other damage.
The Supreme Court stated that under the discovery rule, “the ‘exercise of reasonable diligence’ [means] that the injured party must act with some promptness where the facts and circumstances of an injury place a reasonable person of common knowledge and experience on notice that a claim against another party might exist.” Id. at 363-364. The court found that “the fact that [Dean] may not comprehend the full extent of the damage is immaterial.” The Court noted that the evidence established that in 1984 Dean believed that the crack was attributable to the defendant’s pile driving. Id. Moreover, the facts showed that Dean had also retained experts who warned that the crack might expand, thus giving her notice that she may have a cause of action against Ruscon. Id. at 365. Accordingly, the Court held that Dean’s claim was barred by the six-year statute of limitations in effect at the time. Id. at 366.
South Carolina’s courts issued similar rulings in Dillon County Sch. Dist. No. Two v. Lewis Sheet Metal Works, Inc., 286 S.C. 207, 332 S.E.2d 555 (Ct. App. 1985) and Republic Contracting Corp. v. S.C. Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp., 332 S.C. 197, 503 S.E.2d 761 (Ct. App. 1998). Both of these cases are worth review if you have a statute of limitations issue.
If you think you might have a claim relating to a construction project, you must keep in mind that you only have 3 years to bring the claim from the date that you knew of a claim or could have known about the claim if you had conducted an investigation. If you are a defendant, the statute of limitations is a solid defense in South Carolina to be considered.