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Important NJ Court Decision


Steven Hockstein
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NEW JERSEY COURT HOLDS HOME INSPECTORS NOT SUBJECT TO CONSUMER FRAUD ACT OR NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS, AND CAN MODIFY THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN THEIR CONTRACTS

Zarwin Attorneys Joseph W. Denneler, Esquire and Charity A. Heidenthal, Esquire obtained a decision on a motion for summary judgment wherein they convinced a New Jersey Court that licensed home inspectors in New Jersey are not subject to the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, are not subject to negligence claims, and can modify the applicable statute of limitations on home inspection claims from the statutorily provided four years in their contracts.

In Vaz v. Sweet Ventures, Inc., et al., No. UNN-L-004619-10 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div.), the Plaintiffs alleged they were damaged due to the Defendant Home Inspector's failure to identify and disclose certain defects in a home they purchased. The Defendant Home Inspector had a Pre-Inspection Agreement with the Plaintiffs which included a clause limiting the time period for the Plaintiffs to bring suit from one year after the date of completion of the home inspection. The Plaintiffs original lawsuit alleged negligence in performing the home inspection. The Plaintiffs then sought leave of court to amend their lawsuit to add claims against the Defendant Home Inspector under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1, et seq.

The Court issued a thirty-five page opinion holding that home inspectors are not subject to liability under the Consumer Fraud Act because they are 'learned professionals' and excluded from the scope of the CFA. The Court further held that due to the gist of the action doctrine, if a home inspector has a contract with its client, any claims related to any omissions in performing the inspection are claims for breach of contract and cannot be asserted as claims for negligence, misrepresentation or other tort based liability. Additionally, the Court held that although the statute of limitations in New Jersey for claims against home inspectors is four years, a home inspection contract can shorten that period, provided the modifying contract clause meets the usual standards for consumer contracts and that the home inspector adheres to all of the rules pertaining to pre-inspection agreements found in the New Jersey Administrative Code, N.J.A.C. 13:40 -15.1 et seq

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