Use Caution When Claiming to be a Home Inspection or Service “Expert”
We in some cases see inspectors refer to themselves as a “home inspection expert,” or as an “inspection specialist” on their sites or in marketing products. Inspectors who explain themselves as “experts” might unconsciously be developing prospective legal issues for themselves if a dissatisfied client sues them.
The field of home inspections as a whole, even still today, is a highly unregulated field when compared with other professional service industries, such as construction. As such, we as home inspectors need to be very careful with how we promote ourselves, and how we identify our services. Even just the wrong word said in the wrong place in an article online can have unintended consequences far beyond what you might think of as possible. As a home inspector, calling yourself an inspection specialist produces other prospective or potential legal claims, each with their own implications, and none of them you would want.
When an inspector declares to be a “home inspection expert,” a court might hold the inspector to a higher standard than those not claiming to be an expert, yet still doing the same work. This is especially the case if the inspector declares to be a home inspection specialist in a particular element of evaluating a home or property for a client, such as the inspection of a septic system, or sewer scope.
Misleading Trade Practices
These statutes usually permit an effective complainant to recuperate treble damages, as well as lawyer’s costs and court expenses. In case you are unfamiliar with treble damages;
“treble damages, in United States law, is a term that indicates that a statute permits a court to triple the amount of the actual/compensatory damages to be awarded to a prevailing plaintiff. Treble damages are a multiple of, and not an addition to, actual damages in some instances. In some jurisdictions, house inspectors are thought about as experts and are exempt from the misleading trade practices act, however in other jurisdictions, they are not.”Wikipedia contributors. (2018, June 13). Treble damages. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:03, June 23, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Treble_damages&oldid=845639094
It is crucial, then if you want to become a home inspector, or especially if you are a brand new home inspector, to learn and understand the law within your jurisdiction so that you may operate within its constraints.
Breach of Contract
Claiming yourself a home inspection expert in your field, or a specific subset or derivative of that field contributes to affecting possible clients to select either you or your company to provide the necessary inspection services. With this, a dissatisfied consumer might declare that you had ultimately breached the agreement by stopping work during the inspection to affirm or look-up the information you stated to have at the time the consumer was persuaded by your claims to hire you. Typically, situations such as this will occur after the fact. If and when an unexpected issue in the home presents itself to the client, after the inspection is done and over, who then believes it should have either been identified by you in the first place or perhaps even blames you for whatever the situation might be. Honestly, at this point, it doesn’t matter yet if it was you or not; this is now a situation that must be handled very carefully, as an inspector’s reputation is paramount to their success and the client’s perception. This is one great reason why we take so many photos on the job and document EVERYTHING as a home inspector, so we have evidence to back ourselves up if and when a claim is made against us.
Misrepresenting Yourself as a Specialist
In addition to any carelessness, agreement or statutory claims that a dissatisfied client might assert versus you, s/he might likewise declare the tort of misrepresentation. You might be responsible for misrepresenting yourself or your business if you make an incorrect declaration. The declaration, or observations and report, is your product as a home inspector. The consumer relies on your home inspection report to assist him/herself in understanding the present condition of the home based on your findings, as well as whether or not they are comfortable enough with any safety or repair issues found to move forward with the purchase of the home. If the information in your report is incorrect, all of a sudden, the cost/benefit analysis the homebuyer had done to qualify the concessions allowed for the purchase of the home is moot-point anymore, as the “home” is no longer the one that he/she was lead to believe they purchased.
It is even possible that a court might hold that by stating yourself an inspection specialist, you made a suggested service warranty to the consumer, warranting the quality of your services.
After a Claim is Filed, How Might the Plaintiffs Attorney Use Your Statements of Expertise Against You?
The consumer signed an inspection agreement before carrying out the inspection of the home and property you were hired to inspect. You thought you did everything correctly during that job. Everything went smoothly, and your client ended up making the decision to purchase the home and move in. It was an ideal job for a new home inspector, that is, until later on, when the client found a supposed problem with the home or property. Now, believing the blame lies on you, the inspector, for not warning him/her about the issue, or the possibility of the problem, whatever it may be they are very dissatisfied as your customer and have actually proceeded to sue you. Now what?
As soon as the client submits the claim, their legal representative will depose you. During this deposition, your client’s attorney might ask you to look at each page of your website where you claim to be a specialist and validate that you developed those things. The attorney will typically ask you, the inspector, whether or not it is true this statement and webpage were designed, created, and implemented by you, or by a third party with your express permission.
Next, come the opening declarations. When the plaintiffs lawyer talks to the jurors, you can wager the opening declaration will consist of something like this: “In truth, the proof will reveal that the inspector voluntarily chose to market him/herself as a ‘specialist’ or an “expert” to convince the customer to select him/herself or their respective businesses for their inspection needs. You will see today, pages from the inspector’s website where he/she consistently declared themselves to be an ‘expert.'”.
Now, expect the case does not settle, and the jury choice procedure will start. When the complainant’s legal representative begins to question the possible jurors, among these concerns, the legal representative will ask is, “What does the word ‘expert’ indicate to you?” The plaintiff’s attorney does not care that much how each prospective juror addresses the concern– he’s attempting to plant a seed in the minds of the potential jurors. A seed that suggests to them you need to be held to a higher standard than someone who neither claims, nor purports to be a specialist.
The fun part is only just beginning, though. At some point during this whole debacle, you will be called up and asked to affirm or testify in front of judge and witness. This legal representative is going to ask you all the very same questions, and have all the same concerns you were asked throughout your earlier deposition. So don’t worry if things seem repetitive, just make sure to answer truthfully and honestly.
It should be time for closing arguments now. You can be sure that the complainant’s closing argument will consist of the word “specialist” many times over.
In the extremely competitive world of home inspections, inspectors naturally desire to convince possible clients to choose them over any of their competition. Stating yourself an “expert” has many advantages to it, but it also comes with dangers, especially so if you have no way of substantiating your claims.
The Courts will always keep you to the claims you make in your marketing products, whether they be true, or false. You’d much better stand all set to show that you are if you declare you are a specialist in something. And it is particularly harmful to state you are an “expert” if you aren’t able to indicate proof that you are, because, unlike the other defensible adjectives and descriptions– such as CMI ®, “certified,” “guaranteed,” “CPI,” and so on, which have precise market meanings– what is it that makes you a specialist? Always, always, ALWAYS be able to back up the claims you make as a home inspector, online, and elsewhere.
When all of the statements have been given, the judge will advise the jury on the law. This might consist of a guideline which states a “specialist” is held to a higher professional standard when compared with an individual doing the same work, but NOT declaring her/himself an “expert,” or “specialist.”
Always ensure your claims about yourself are defensible.