A New Jersey trial court recently determined that a home inspector can contractually limit the time for the filing of a lawsuit to one year instead of the statutory four year period provided by N.J.S.A. 45:8-76.1. In so holding, the court provided New Jersey home inspectors with a defense to lawsuits filed years after the home inspection.
The plaintiff in Lewis v. NJHR2, et al., Docket No. OCN-L-698-16 purchased a home in December, 2014. She contracted with the defendant home inspector for a residential home inspection which was also completed in December, 2014. Sometime in or around February, 2015 plaintiff alleged she noticed significant material defects that were not disclosed to her prior to her purchase. Plaintiff filed her lawsuit against the sellers in March, 2016, but did not name the defendant home inspector in the lawsuit. The home inspector was first joined in the lawsuit in May, 2016 by the seller defendants. Plaintiff eventually filed an amended pleading joining the defendant home inspector in August, 2016.
The inspection contract signed by plaintiff contained the following provision:
LIMITATION PERIOD - Any legal action arising from this Agreement or from the Services and Report, including (but not limited to) the arbitration proceeding more specifically described above, must be commenced within one (1) year from the date of the Services. Failure to bring such an action within this time period shall be a complete bar to any such action and a full and complete waiver of any rights, or claims based thereon. This time limitation may be shorter than provided by state law.
Defendant home inspector, through his attorney, Joseph W. Denneler, Esquire of Salmon, Ricchezza, Singer & Turchi, LLP filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to enforce the contractual limitations period and other relief. After briefing and oral argument, the trial judge held that although the inspection contract was a contract of adhesion, the limitations clause was clearly worded, conspicuous and fully informed the plaintiff that any legal action against the home inspector had to be filed within one year of the date of the inspection. Neither plaintiff not the seller defendants joined the home inspector in the action until May, 2016, more than a year after the home inspection in December, 2014. The decision resulted in the dismissal of all claims against the home inspector.
This decision reinforces the need for a professional home inspection contract and informed advice on preventing and defending against lawsuits arising from home inspections. Joseph W. Denneler, Esquire’s practice is dedicated to evaluating claims and lawsuits against inspectors and representing them in courts, arbitrations and administrative hearings. He is the counsel of choice for many of the largest insurers of inspectors. Mr. Denneler’s risk management program, Claims Assist, makes his vast, unparalleled experience representing and advising home inspectors available to all inspectors seeking to improve their risk management plan and prevent future claims and lawsuits. Visit www.inspectorclaimassist.com and pick the level of service you need for peace of mind and added protection from claims and lawsuits.