Inspector Not Liable for Later Injuries

Read the full decision: Grogan v. Uggla

An individual (“Owner”) hired a home inspector (“Inspector”) to inspect a house prior to his purchase. The Inspector noted that the flooring on the second story deck (“Deck”) needed to be replaced and so the seller replaced the flooring prior to the sale. The Inspector did not identify any problems with the Deck’s railing. Following his purchase, the Owner had a social gathering at the house and the Deck’s railing collapsed, causing one of the guests (“Guest”) to fall off the Deck and suffer severe injuries. The Guest brought a lawsuit against the Owner, prior owner, contractor, and the Inspector. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Inspector and the appellate court affirmed. The Guest appealed to the state’s highest court.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee affirmed the lower court, finding that the Inspector did not provide false information to the Owner nor did he assume a duty of care to property visitors. The court first considered the negligence allegations against the Inspector, which was an issue of first impression for the court. The Inspector testified that he had not seen any visual damage to the railing and the railing had seemed secure during his property inspection. However, later testing revealed that improper screws had been used to secure the railing and the screws had rusted, causing the railing’s collapse.

The court found that the Inspector had not assumed a duty of care for later visitors to the property and thus was not negligent. In order to allege negligence, a party must establish that the other party owed a duty of care to them and the other party breached that duty, causing injury. The court found that the Inspector had only agreed in the home inspection agreement to perform a visual inspection of the property and did not ascertain whether the property met building code requirements. He also had not assumed a duty to protect later visitors to the property. Since the Inspector had not assumed these duties, the court ruled that the Inspector was not liable for negligence.

Next, the court considered the negligent misrepresentation allegations. As part of a negligent misrepresentation claim, a party must show that the other party negligently provided false information. Here, the Guest failed to plead this, as the Inspector never represented that the Deck’s railing was safe; instead, the Inspector simply failed to visually notice any problems with the railing. Because the Guest had failed to allege a negligent misrepresentation by the Inspector, the court affirmed judgment in favor of the Inspector.

Grogan v. Uggla, 535 S.W.3d 864 (Tenn. 2017)