Inspection leads to property damage, medical bill
Q: As a Realtor, I represent mostly sellers. Recently, a prospective buyer accompanied his home inspector into the attic and managed to fall through the ceiling, causing significant damage and injuring himself. My client, the seller, paid a contractor $600 to repair the ceiling. Meanwhile, the buyer canceled the purchase contract, refused to pay for the repairs, and now wants my seller to pay his medical bills. What's more, the agent for the buyer agrees with her client and has requested that the seller file a claim on his homeowners insurance policy.
Can you believe the nerve? I think the buyer and the home inspector should pay for damages to the home, and the buyer should pay for his own injuries. As I see it, my client did not hire the home inspector. That was the buyer's decision. Therefore, the buyer should accept responsibility for the damages he caused, and the home inspector should accept responsibility for allowing the buyer into the attic. The buyer put himself in harm's way, and the home inspector permitted that to happen. What do you think about this?
A: Most reasonable people would agree with you. A buyer who would go into a seller's attic, fall through the ceiling, and then expect the seller to pay for damages and injuries gives new meaning to words such as gall, temerity and chutzpah. It calls to mind the story of the burglar who sued the homeowner for injuries sustained while crawling through the window the burglar had just broken.
In my opinion, the seller should not have to pay for damages that occurred as a result of activities arising from another party's home inspection: a process over which the seller had no control. If the buyer lacks sufficient integrity to pay for his own carelessness, the home inspector should own the fact that he allowed a nonprofessional to enter a hazardous area of the home.
In my own experience as a home inspector, there were rare occasions when I allowed a buyer to accompany me into an attic. In each case, the buyer was instructed to step only on the ceiling joists, with the understanding that the drywall or plaster between the joints was fragile and would not support a person's weight. By allowing a buyer into an attic, I was undertaking and accepting legal liability for potential consequences. Had an accident ever occurred, it would have been my obligation to pay for repairs, without being asked. That is the professional responsibility of any home inspector who would assume that kind of risk.
On one occasion, many years ago, while crawling alone through an attic, my knee slipped off a joist, making a hole in the ceiling. I apologized to the seller and made immediate arrangements for repairs to be made at my own expense. Any home inspector with a smidgen of integrity and a desire to maintain a meaningful reputation would do no less, and sellers should expect that kind of treatment when allowing professionals into their home. Simply put: it's the right thing to do. Hopefully, the home inspector in your situation will acknowledge that responsibility.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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