Imagine you are a subcontractor hired to work on a project for the State of Connecticut in 1994. You did not deal with the State at all in your contractual dealings. You were hired by a general contractor to do a small part of a large building project. Next, you priced your work, completed it, and got paid.
Now, fast forward 12 years. Without any notice to you (some defendants claimed they had no notice of issues) of any problems for 12 years, the State of Connecticut knocks on your door with a lawsuit seeking over 15 million dollars from more than 20 defendants, including your company.
When you receive this lawsuit, you might immediately conclude that the lawsuit is time barred by the statute of limitations for breach of contract and negligence. You might even ask your attorney, and your attorney probably would agree that the statute of limitations for your work has long expired. Nothing to worry about, right? WRONG.
Here is the case: State of Connecticut v. Lombardo Brothers Mason Contractors, et al. In this case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld the ancient doctrine of nullum tempus occurrit regi, or "no time runs against the king." The king is the State of Connecticut. The court noted that nullum tempus is "a common-law rule that exempts the state from the operation" of time based statutes, such as statutes of limitation and repose. In short, the 12 year passage of time does not matter because the state is like the king.
The state filed its lawsuit against more than 20 contractors in 2008 for over 15 million dollars in alleged damages caused by faulty construction and water leakage at the University of Connecticut law library. The work was completed in 1996. The state immediately began to notice problems with water leakage. This was not a hidden defect case. The State knew right away, and did not bring a lawsuit for damages for 12 years. The state sought recovery for breach of contract, negligence, and product liability.
None of this mattered as the Supreme Court found that nullum tempus has been alive and well in Connecticut since at least 1879 and traceable all the way back to English common law. The court deemed it "well established and clear-cut." Maybe so, but clarity to the court does not make it any less shocking to contractors and their attorneys. The court also noted that if someone wants the common law of Connecticut changed, that is the job of the legislature.
Nothing like a 15 million dollar lawsuit to remind you that our law is largely based on English common law....