Minnesota Court of Appeals: “Just plead negligent maintenance!” Recent decision could take teeth out of statute of repose for improvements to real property.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently held that the ten-year statute of repose for improvements to real property does not bar common law premises liability claims if the claimant alleges negligent maintenance rather than negligent construction.  In Monson v. Suck, 855 N.W.2d 323 (Minn. Ct. App. 2014), the plaintiff fell off the top of a set of steps connected to a deck at the back of defendant’s house.  The defendant had allowed the plaintiff to stay in a camper on his property.  Plaintiff used the steps several times each day to enter defendant’s house.   After consuming several beers, plaintiff’s leg went “numb” as he stepped off the porch and he feel down the stairs.  Plaintiff suffered a fractured spine which required a six-level fusion.

Plaintiff filed suit and alleged his injuries were caused by the absence of a handrail, and that defendant negligently maintained the property by failing to install a handrail.  Defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that the claims were time-barred by the ten-year statute of repose for improvements to real property under Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a).  The trial court agreed, reasoning that the negligent maintenance exception in subdivision 1(d) did not apply because plaintiff’s claims related to the absence of a handrail, not the general maintenance or inspection of the stairway.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed.  The court held the negligent maintenance exception in subdivision 1(d) precluded summary judgment.  Further, in situations like this, the plaintiff can survive summary judgment by alleging failure to remedy the dangerous condition (installing a handrail), rather than a defect which existed at the time of construction.

This decision is significant as claimants will attempt to “plead around” the ten-year statute of repose via the negligently maintenance exception.

We will continue to monitor this case regarding any appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court as well as other decisions involving premises liability and improvements to real property.  If you have any questions about this or any other matter please Matt Johnson, Bob Kuderer or Tom Brock.