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Indiana justices outline ‘improvement to real property’

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For the first time, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed what constitutes an “improvement to real property” as mentioned in the construction statute of repose. In doing so, the justices reversed the trial court’s grant of a contractor’s motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death claim.

In 2007, Sharon Gill filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court against Evansville Sheet Metal Works and 18 other defendants asserting wrongful death claims. As to ESMW, she sought damages on theories of products liability and contractor negligence. Her husband worked at Aluminum Company of America in Newburgh and was allegedly exposed to and inhaled asbestos fibers during the course of his employment. He was diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease in 2004 and died of lung cancer in 2005.

ESMW allegedly worked as a contractor for Alcoa at a common worksite with Gill’s husband.

The Marion Superior Court placed the complaint on its Mass Tort Asbestos Litigation Docket and eventually granted ESMW’s motions for summary judgment on the grounds that Gill’s product liability and contractor negligence claims were barred by the product liability statute of repose and construction statute of repose, respectively. At issue Monday was only whether the construction statute of repose applied.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding Gill brought her claim outside the 10-year period stipulated in the statute, so her claim was barred.

Indiana courts have yet to define the meaning of “improvement to real property” as used in Indiana Code 32-30-1-5 (2004). The justices cited the statute in effect at the time of Gill’s complaint even though the statute was amended in 2005. Justice Frank Sullivan noted the court perceived no substantive difference between the former version and the current one.

Looking at how other states have handled this issue, the justices decided to take the “commonsense” approach that looks to the ordinary or plain meaning of the phrase. Whether something is an improvement to real property under the commonsense approach is a question of law, but its resolution is grounded in fact, Sullivan wrote in Sharon Gill, on her own behalf and on behalf of the Estate of Gale Gill v. Evansville Sheet Metal Works, Inc., 49S05-1111-CV-672.  

The high court held that an “improvement to real property” is an addition to or betterment of real property, that is permanent, that enhances the real property’s capital value, that involves the expenditure of labor or money, that is designed to make the property more useful or valuable, and that is not an ordinary repair.

“In applying this commonsense definition, judges and lawyers should focus on these individual criteria but they should not lose sight of the fact that this is a definition grounded in commonsense,” he wrote. “The fact that a purported improvement satisfies each of these individual criteria may not be sufficient for it to be an improvement within the meaning of the CSoR if it would do violence to the plain and ordinary meaning of the term as used in the construction context.”

In this case, ESMW failed to make a prima facie showing that its work at Alcoa constituted an improvement to real property. The justices remanded for further proceedings.

The justices also addressed the COA’s criticism of that Marion County court following its local rule allowing pre-discovery motions for summary judgment. They agreed with the COA judges that whether something is an improvement to real property is a fact-sensitive inquiry that may require discovery in some cases, but disagreed with the conclusion that Local Rule 714 can’t be applied in this context.

 

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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith .. http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2013/09/prof-alan-dershowitz-on-indiana.html

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

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