When it rains, it pours. And, when your neighbor’s field dike doesn’t work properly, it floods your farm. In a new decision, the Eighth Circuit addressed this important question: How long can I wait to sue my neighbor for flooding my property? The Answer: 2 years.
In Minch Family LLLP v. Estate of Gladys I. Norby, the Minch Family sued Robert Norby, alleging that a 60-year-old field dike on Norby’s side of the property line caused the Minch Family’s farm to flood. The Eighth Circuit held that the dike was an “improvement to real property,” and therefore the Minch Family’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations at Minn. Stat. 541.051. That section, the cornerstone of construction defect and water intrusion claims, requires that claims arising out of defects in improvements to real property be brought within two years of discovery of the injury to property (or, if asserting a breach of statutory warranty claim, within 2 years of the breach of warranty).
Although I think the Eighth Circuit’s decision is correct under the statute’s plain language, it does create a problem: Most cases that fall under Minn. Stat. 541.051 involve construction defects on the property owner’s own property. In those cases, the property owner can fully investigate the defective condition. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to expect the owner to commence suit within two years. The Minch case is different because the flooding was caused by a defective improvement on a neighbor’s property. Where the defective condition is not on your own property, the ability to identify the cause-and therefore identify the party to sue–may be severely stymied.
But, I digress. That particular problem was certainly not at play in the Minch case. There, the facts showed that the Minch Family knew for well over two years that the Norby dike was causing the flooding.