Statute of Repose Doesn’t Apply in Reversal of Summary Judgment as Evidence Regarding Work Deemed Insufficient to Show an Improvement to Property

In this case, the plaintiff, Sandra Brezonick, alleged that the decedent, John Brezonick, was exposed to asbestos at various sites while working as a steamfitter in the Milwaukee area between 1966 and 2000. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged product liability, negligence and safe place statute claims under Wis. Stat. § 101.11 against numerous defendants.  The defendants included property owners Pabst Brewing Company, Miller Brewing Company and Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WEPCO) — where asbestos was allegedly used — and insulation contractor Sprinkmann Sons Corporation, which allegedly used and supplied asbestos-containing materials.  The defendants’ motions for summary judgment were granted by the lower circuit court based on the arguments raised on the construction statute of repose under Wis. Stat. 893.89.

The Court of Appeals, in evaluating the motions under the statute of repose, looked at the three requirements for the statute to apply: “(1) the defendant is an owner or occupier of the property, or a person involved in the improvement to real property; (2) [Sandra’s] claims relate to some allegedly faulty aspect of the improvement to real property; and (3) the claim has been brought outside the [ten-year] exposure period.  Plaintiff did not contest requirements 1 and 3, but argued that requirement 2 did not apply as the work was in relation to maintenance and/or repair and not improvement.  The court assed the facts and evidence of each defendant and reversed the lower court’s ruling stating “the evidence on summary judgment, with respect to all the Defendants, was insufficient to establish that the work exposing John to asbestos made improvements to real property. General findings that John was exposed to asbestos while he, or others nearby, were installing new pipes, and replacing old pipes and insulation, is insufficient without additional evidence showing that the projects ‘enhance[d the] capital value’ of the property and made the property ‘more useful or valuable.’ The fact that the projects were large, expensive, and involved is not enough.” (internal citations omitted)

Read the full decision here.