Jump to content

First call from an attorney


Recommended Posts

Well after 8 years in the business I got my first call from an attorney. Evidently the seller didn't disclose to the buyer that they have a problem with water getting into the duckwork, which is in the slab. I always open the registers when I see them in a slab and take a picture. My question is this. I did a phone interview with the buyers attorney twice and now they are sending me a questionnaire to fill out asking me what my advice would have been if I'd seen water in the duct. Should I charge the attorney for my time to fill out the questionnaire or should I just do it and go about my way, not wanting to stir any waters?

Link to post
Share on other sites

The attorney and the buyer are 'playing' you. The question you must answer to yourself is, "Do I want to be the 'middle man?''

If you answered yes, you may need to hire your own attorney.

The transaction between you and the buyer has been fulfilled. You performed an inspection for xxx dollars and supplied a report offering your description of visually observed characteristics present at the time of the inspection.

How can you be asked to speculate about conditions which were not present and not observed. That becomes a useless guess contingent upon, how much? where? how long? etc., etc.

Lawyers get paid for everything they do. It's called 'billable hours.' You have a professional license to get PAID for your opinion! Don't let some two-bit, shyster, mail-order mouthpiece intimidate you into losing money.

Lawyers job in a lawsuit is to find someone to blame and extract money from them, they don't care who that is!

Link to post
Share on other sites

So you would send the attorney a bill for the 2 phone calls and an invoice for the questionnaire?

Sure! Of course, his arrogance may prevent him from honoring such a bill. It's always best to explain fees up-front.

But, if that turns out to be the case, at least he'll know which way the wind blows and won't be bugging you any more.

Link to post
Share on other sites

............But, if that turns out to be the case, at least he'll know which way the wind blows and won't be bugging you any more.

..........Don't be too sure he won't be bugging you. Sounds to me like the prelude to the song and dance titled " you should have seen the wet ducts, and what are you going to do to make this right for our client now?.........Greg.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't be so sure of that. He pulled a register cover, took a picture, documented what he did, etc.

The tone of the attorney sounds like he's looking for ammo on the seller, not to burn the inspector.

Of course, it can go either way. Who knows at this point?

I'd not be filling out any questionnaire until I had some advice from my attorney; it could be good, or bad.

As far as charging for my time, it's reasonable to charge the guy. Or, he can do the simple thing of subpoenaing you, paying $25, and have you on the hook for lots of wasted time. Being a nice guy might be the better accounting decision.

Talk to your own attorney, then figure out what you might do.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I don't work for free, especially for attorneys who charge an arm and a leg for what they do.

I likely wouldn't complete the questionnaire at all since I don't do expert witness work. I'd tell him that, then end the relationship right quick. I've done something similar to that a couple times.

Marc

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, hopefully, none of us do. But, coming right out of the chute with a billing demand can land you places where you might not want to be.

If so inclined, attorneys that can jerk you around legally and for long periods of time, without pay outside of a $25 subpoena check.

It's better to think about this as an accounting consideration instead of a fee for time approach. Maybe billing up front is correct, maybe not. It can go either direction depending on a lot of stuff we don't know yet.

I wouldn't do squat until I had an attorney in my corner advise me.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I likely wouldn't complete the questionnaire at all since I don't do expert witness work. I'd tell him that, then end the relationship right quick. I've done something similar to that a couple times.

I'm with Kurt on this one. If there's a lawyer involved in a dispute between the buyer and seller, then the HI is part of that relationship, and you can't just end it. You could get saddled with lots and lots of legal issues that you don't want. Better to be a helpful partner up front, when the time commitment is minimal.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you have a SOP, I might copy that into an email and send it to the lawyer in place of answering a bunch of questions.

But you want to stay on side with your client if at all possible. Creating animosity at this point might not work in your favor.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Contact your attorney!

Years ago I inspected a home that showed major damage to finished basement from water (all was dry, we were in a drought at the time). That and many other problems had the buyer walking, seller lowers price and says only a small amount of water ever gets into basement.

Buyer moves in, rains came, basement floods. Buyers lawyer ask me to look at and prepare a report as they were going to court to sue the seller. I did (without getting an agreement with the lawyer). Goes to court, Sellers lawyer ask the judge to enjoin all parties involved. Three RE agents, two brokers, and I get joined with the seller to defend against the suit.

It turned out to be a costly lesson. Contact your attorney!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dang ya'll got me rethinking this whole deal, and may very well not be sending any invoices. My buyers attorney (whom just by chance I've known my whole life) mentioned on the phone that they were trying to pin this on the seller. Also should have noted that I inspected the house in May of 2010, they bought the house and didn't notice the water in ducts til November of 2011, and were just now calling me in June of 2012.

I mentioned in 3 places in the report that water could be entering the house from different places, but made no mention of wet ducts because they were not wet when I inspected the house.

I do have an attorney prepared inspection agreement signed by my client which limits my liability to 180 days and on top of that the statute of limitations in Arkansas is 1 year from date of inspection. Really hoping this blows over, I do not want to go to court.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Pro- I am going to assume you are old enough to see where this is going. If it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, its a duck. Lawyers like to start slow. If they didn't want to mess with you, they wouldn't be messing with you.

Get a good nights sleep, and call your attorney in the morning. Do not fill out a questionnaire, do not speak with this lawyer, do not speak to your client without your own council. -JAO

Good luck, keep us in the know.

Link to post
Share on other sites

and now they are sending me a questionnaire to fill out asking me what my advice would have been if I'd seen water in the duct.

The whole thing falls apart with the nature of the questionnaire.

The logical rule is "you cannot predict the outcome of events that never occurred."

It certainly didn't occur on your watch.

They can't subpoena you to speculate, only to provide facts. "The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

The answer to the questionnaire is, "I don't know." Because it would depend on to many other unknowns.

Tell the guy to go chase an ambulance.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I would answer basic questions and give simple guidance to the attorney and my client in the spirit of good will and also to gauge what is happening. This does not include responding to written questionaires.

If the attorney is your friend you can ask him to be candid with you and tell you where he thinks this is going.

At this point it seems that they need an expert and you should offer expert service and provide retainer agreement for the work.

In the event that you are called to court you should be able to charge your expert rate. You are not required to work for free.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A word of caution... In slab ductwork has a pretty dismal history and should always be noted as being problematic, even if it is dry and you see no problems with it. A good example is what you are experiencing right now.

Be nice and offer your opine but try to get a get out of jail free card saying you will not be included in any lawsuit if you offer your services for free. It might just work, you never know...

This is the stuff that is not taught in the schools or in the books. It is acquired through experience, learned knowledge and from other experienced inspectors who have been down this road.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks to all for the advice. I'd like to compare what I would have written to what some of you would say.

You're in a house with the ducts in the slab, 40 year old house. You lift up a register, see standing water, what recommendation do you write in your report?

Disclaimer: Letter from attorney arrived today and stated that the Sellers agent says that the seller now admits that she knew about water in the ducts and did not disclose it on the property disclosure. The buyer found baking powder in a register, that he assumes was used to cut down on smell.

From my memory: I remember lifting a couple of registers and not seeing any water. I did not lift every register in the house.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks to all for the advice. I'd like to compare what I would have written to what some of you would say.

You're in a house with the ducts in the slab, 40 year old house. You lift up a register, see standing water, what recommendation do you write in your report?

Disclaimer: Letter from attorney arrived today and stated that the Sellers agent says that the seller now admits that she knew about water in the ducts and did not disclose it on the property disclosure. The buyer found baking powder in a register, that he assumes was used to cut down on smell.

From my memory: I remember lifting a couple of registers and not seeing any water. I did not lift every register in the house.

If I found water in slab ductwork I would report just that. I would then tell my client that this is not normal nor is it a good thing. I would then explain that the only cure will be to replace the current ductwork with new ducting that is not in the slab.

FYI, I pretty much tell my clients the above even if I do not find water in slab ductwork.

Link to post
Share on other sites

"I would then explain that the only cure will be to replace the current ductwork with new ducting that is not in the slab."

I missed this once, or there wasn't water in the ducts at the time. Six months after my client moved in, she had mold growing everywhere in what had been a freshly painted house (seller knew). Regardless, the water in the ducts acted like a humidifier times a thousand. Summa the worst mold growth I've ever seen

Me and my plumbing bud found the low spot in the ductwork (easy; the deepest part of the water), trenched in about 8' of underground drain tile alongside and just below the level of that in-slab ductwork, tied the drain tile into a new sump pit we installed in her master bedroom closet, and as water seeks its own level, she never got another drop of water in the ducts.

Never did come to lawyer stuff.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...