Fourth Circuit Brings Clarity to Peremption Statute in Suit Against Design Professional

The question addressed in MR Pittman Group, LLC versus Plaquemines Parish Government, 2015-0396 (La.App. 4 Cir. 12/2/15) was whether the five-year peremptive period set by La. R.S. 9:5607 displaces Louisiana’s general one-year prescriptive period set by La. C.C. art. 3492, when applied to tort claims against design professionals. Finding a contractor’s claim against the project engineers prescribed, the MR Pittman court held that the one-year prescriptive period governs tort claims against design professionals.

 

La. R.S. 9:5607 explicitly provides a peremptive period that extinguishes all claims against architects, engineers and other design professionals five years after the project is completed, thus limiting design professional liability associated with the project. The MR Pittman plaintiff/contractor argued that the statute also eliminates the one-year prescriptive period and instead creates a special five-year prescriptive period, which allowed the contractor up to five years to bring its claim against the engineers to recover for delay and other extra costs allegedly resulting from deficiencies in the construction plans. This interpretation effectively expands tort liability by increasing the time period for bringing a tort claim from one to five years. In rejecting this argument, the MR Pittman court clarified that under the statute any claimant has no more than five years after project completion to bring suit against the design professional for any cause. However, a tort claimant still has only one year to file suit from the date he “knew or should have known” of damage caused by the alleged wrongful actions of the design professional.

 

A secondary question addressed in MR Pittman was the date of commencement of the one-year prescriptive period, which under La. C.C. 3492 commences to run from the day damage is sustained. The defendant/engineers argued that prescription commenced when the contractor first became aware of the alleged design deficiencies early in construction, as evidenced by the contractor’s notice to the owner of the deficiencies. The contractor argued that it could not fully appreciate its damages until the change orders were resolved later in the project. Citing Louisiana Supreme Court precedent holding that the quantum of damages need not be certain or fully incurred to trigger commencement of prescription, Harvey v. Dixie Graphics, Inc., 593 So.2d 351, 354 (La. 1992), the court agreed with the engineers’ position and dismissed the claims.

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