Oklahoma's Statute Of Limitations For Contracts

The statute of limitation under 12 O.S. § 95 requires that a lawsuit for breach of contract must be brought within five years if the claim arises from a written contract and within three years if the dispute comes from a contract not reduced to writing.  The time in which to file the lawsuit starts at the completion of the contract.  In the case of Kirby v. Jean's Plumbing Heat & Air, 2009 OK 65, the contract for installation of a new sewage pipeline was completed in 1996.  The homeowner did not file his breach of contract suit until eleven years later in 2007.  The statute of limitations had clearly expired and Oklahoma declined to apply the "discovery rule" to suits based upon breach of contract in construction cases. 

One reason for the court's refusal to extend the "discovery rule" to construction cases is that to do so would defeat the intention of the legislature with the statute of repose.  The court, in upholding the intention of the legislature, has determined there should be some outside limit on when a lawsuit can be brought regardless of the circumstances.

What Is A Statute Of Repose?

A statute of repose as well as a statute of limitation is a legislative means of ending or terminating the time in which a lawsuit may be brought.  "In practical terms, a statute of repose marks the outer time boundary for judicial enforcement of a substantive right whereas a statute of limitation interposes itself only procedurally to bar solely the remedy after a substantive right has vested and a claim accrued."  Kirby v. Jean's Plumbing Heat & Air, 2009 OK 65.

Many people are more familiar with statutes of limitation which bar a person from bringing a lawsuit after a certain period of time has expired.  Typically, statutes of limitation are more commonly thought about in situations in which there is a car accident or other negligent act committed.  The time in which to file the suit starts upon learning about the damages resulting from the negligent act.  The damaged party has a certain period in which to file a lawsuit or forever lose the right to do so.

In contrast, a statute of repose marks the absolute end of any available lawsuit.  The courts have allowed statutes of limitation to be tolled or extended because of the "discovery rule".  The discovery rule is simply the device used to trigger the time in which to file a lawsuit after learning about the damage.  Once a person learns about the damage, the lawsuit must be timely filed or the right to judicial relief is surrendered.  With a statute of repose, it doesn't matter if a person learns about the damage after the deadline or not.  The statute of repose bars the lawsuit simply because of the passage of time.

There are some other technical distinctions.  The statute of limitation does not bar the filing of the lawsuit but rather terminates the remedy available or the relief the court may allow.  The statute of repose blocks the entire lawsuit and prohibits it from going forward.