In Georgia, it is well known that actions for injury to real and personal property caused by any person furnishing the design or construction of an improvement to the property must be filed within eight (8) years after the substantial completion of the improvement. O.C.G.A. §9-3-51(a). Further, an improvement to real property has been defined as a fixed alteration to the real property. Mullis v. Southern Co. Services, Inc., 250 Ga. App. 90, 296 S.E.2d 579 (1982). The Courts have held that if a component is an essential and integral part of the improvement to which it belongs, then it is itself an improvement to real property. Therefore, in the event a claimant files an action against a contractor, architect, or subcontractor to recover damages to its real property, for example, one would surmise that he or she has eight (8) years from the date the work was substantially completed to file the claim. That is not the case insomuch as in 1994, the Georgia Court of Appeals, in effect, shortened the time period to file a claim against a contractor to recover damages to real property to four (4) years.
In Hanna, et al. v. McWilliams, et al., 213 Ga. App. 648, 446 S.E.2d 741 (1994), a homeowner brought an action against a general contractor and subcontractor to recover damages to real and personal property caused by the negligent installation of a fireplace. The Hanna Court held that the fireplace constituted an integral part of the home and an improvement. As a result, the statute of repose applied. The Hanna Court also examined whether the homeowner had eight (8) years after the substantial completion of the fireplace to bring an action against the contractors, as outlined in the statute of repose, or whether the four (4) year statute of limitations barred the claim. The Court held, as it pertains to damages to real property, that the Plaintiff’s claims were subject to the four (4) year statute of limitations set forth in O.C.G.A. §9-3-30 and the action accrued at the time of the substantial completion of the project.
The holdings in Hannah provide that in cases involving damages to real property, the statute of repose and statute of limitations will run concurrently after the date of substantial completion. When the four (4) year limitation for tort actions has been reached, the claimant is barred from pursuing a claim to recover damages to its real property as a result of the defect in an improvement to its land. Keep in mind that the application of Hannah is different for damages to personal property as the discovery exception to the statute of limitations applies.
Claimant beware! Make sure you examine the dates when the repair and/or improvement was made to determine if you have a viable claim.