Personal Injury Claims Resulting From Home Construction Defects – Who Is Liable?

In the rush of home design and construction, defects are often a common reality, even if they are not discovered for months or years down the road. In between the time where a defect occurs, or an error is made, and when that defect is discovered, a home may pass through countless hands.  For instance, a contractor or subcontractor may be involved in the work, inspectors or appraisers may examine the work, and the home itself may change hands from one buyer to the next.  In these situations, who is liable for the defect when it ultimately causes an injury? A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals addresses this issue.

In Grogan v. Uggla et al., a third-party guest sued the owner of a home and a home inspector after he was injured on the property. Mr. Grogan was a guest in Mr. Uggla’s home when he leaned against a faulty deck railing that gave way, causing Mr. Grogan to fall two stories to the concrete ground. He was, unsurprisingly, seriously injured in the fall.  It was later discovered that the home had been inspected only several weeks prior by a home inspection company, and Mr. Grogan sued both Mr. Uggla and the inspector, Mr. Black, for negligence in failing to identify that the deck railing had been inadequately constructed.

Mr. Black had inspected the home for Mr. Uggla during the purchase process. At that time, he noted that the deck flooring had problems but did not find any errors in the construction of the railing. The flooring was subsequently replaced, but the railing was not touched.

In order to plead a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must show that there was a duty that the defendant owed to him and that the duty was breached. Here, Mr. Black argued that he owed no duty to third parties like Mr. Grogan and accordingly could not be held liable for their personal injuries.  The Court of Appeals agreed.

Mr. Grogan argued that under Tennessee statutes, Mr. Black was providing a service that he should have recognized would have been relied upon by third parties. Essentially, he took the position that home inspection services offer protection not only to home owners but also to third-party guests who may enter the home. The Court of Appeals disagreed for several reasons. First, it found that home inspections are not a requirement for a guest to enter a home. Second, home inspections are typically used to evaluate the value of a home or possible areas for future work, and not as a definitive indicator of any construction defects or building code violations. Third, and most important, Tennessee Statutes do not require home inspections to check for all building code violations and prohibit third parties from relying on their reports.

For all of these reasons, the Court determined that Mr. Black, as a housing inspector, owed no duty to Mr. Grogan to protect him from harm resulting from defects in the construction of a home deck.

It is important to recognize that the Tennessee Court of Appeal’s decision does not mean that no one can be held responsible for a construction defect that results in harm to a homeowner or a homeowner’s guest. The contractor or engineer who allowed the defect to happen may still be held liable, as may be any other individuals who knew of the defect but did nothing to address it. However, for purposes of personal injury claims, a claim against a housing inspector for an undiscovered defect will be a tough sell.

If you have been injured by a construction or building defect, experienced personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can assist you in evaluating the strength of your claim and potential parties to be held liable. For more information on seeking redress and compensation for your injuries, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Product Defects and Personal Injury – Tennessee Supreme Court Allows Auto Accident Case To Move Forward, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 30, 2015

Making The Case for Punitive Damages in Tennessee – What’s Required Under the Law, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 22, 2015

Tennessee Personal Injury Claims Increase Despite Reduction in Auto Accidents, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 15, 2015

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