Accusation of Negligence

Q: "I represented the buyer when he purchased a home a few months ago. The house looked to be in great shape but it appeared the deck had some issues. Sure enough, both the home inspector, and the appraiser, said the deck need to be repaired. I suggested a contractor, but my client agreed that the seller’s contractor could do the repairs.

I got a letter from the seller’s agent showing the repairs were complete. In this situation, all I can do is verify that this guy had a valid contractor’s license (he did). I can’t comment on the quality of his work. I recommended that my client pay for a second inspection, but he did not want to pay that $225 fee, so I had him sign a waiver. The appraiser did “sign off” on the repairs...but he also states in his report that he is not an expert and that he can’t say the work was done well...only that it was done.

A couple of weeks ago a saw on Facebook that my client had fallen on the deck and got hurt. It also said he had a lawyer and was going after the seller and their contractor looking for damages. I had been meaning to reach out to him, but I have been busy and didn’t get around to it, but then I received a letter from the insurance company for the contractor that did the repairs on the deck.

The letter says their investigation revealed that the fall sustained by my client on the deck of his house was due to a “faulty deck”. They are aware that I was acting as the agent for the sale of the subject home where the fall occurred and assert that I "…may bear some negligence for the claim."  As such, they are tendering a claim to me and requesting that I turn the matter over to my insurer for investigation, etc.

Are you kidding me? Why do I have to notify my carrier? I had nothing to do with this. I didn’t arrange for the repairs. Why are they saying I was negligent?

I called my client right away and he was very apologetic and said he was not suggesting that I had any responsibility. I guess I can be grateful for that but what do I do now? "

A: I understand your frustration, but the letter you received is essentially a form letter. I suspect the listing agent received the same letter. It does not appear that you bear any responsibility for injuries that might have been suffered when the buyer fell on the deck. This is a matter to be handled between the seller, the contractor and the buyer. We can certainly respond to this letter on your behalf.

Would you like Claudia to manage your liability concerns?