You may not be aware of it, but many home sellers face lawsuits from their previous buyers. Some actually come from property visitors, prospective buyers, and even passersby. In many instances, the seller ends up spending tons of time and money in court, not forgetting the emotional turmoil that a long battle in a civil court can cause.
But what really causes such lawsuits, and how can they be avoided? The answer to this question can help you as a homeowner to become keener and smarter when selling your property.
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So, what are some of the most common reasons home sellers get sued?
We recently spoke with David Aylor, of David Aylor Law Firm, a Charleston personal injury attorney, and discussed the most common reasons home sellers get sued when selling their home and tips on how to avoid becoming the next statistic. From what he said, the following pointers should shed some light on this along with the applicable solutions.
1. Not Disclosing Property Defects (Non-Disclosure)
Oftentimes, the issue is more common in “for sale by owner” (FSBO) property. This is because when selling through an experienced agent, they are likely to insist on full disclosure of major problems like roof leaks, faulty air conditioners, dysfunctional appliances, and problematic plumbing. Because they also risk lawsuits, they explain the importance of a house inspection and guide you through the paperwork.
Therefore, sellers are not adamant when it comes to full disclosure, because they are well aware of its importance and repercussions. They would rather not face lawsuits in the near or far future. Whether you’re selling your home through a real estate agent or as an FSBO, it pays to ensure the full disclosure of all home defects if any. Since some defects or problems may not be obvious or easily detectable, this is why a professional inspection is paramount before listing your home.
2. Trip, Slip, and Fall Injuries (Negligence)
If you speak to an attorney before selling your home, they will give you many important pieces of advice. One of the most conspicuous things they will tell you is that it is your responsibility to ensure your home’s safety, and this should be extended to the next prospective owner or occupant.
Now, trips, slips, and falls are among the most common types of accidents in the US, accounting for more than 8M ER visits each year. Rather than shopping stores with slippery floors, or parking spaces with oil spills, most of these accidents take place on private property.
If your house is open for viewing and a visitor or prospective buyer gets injured in a slip-trip-and-fall accident, you could be in hot soup. The victim reserves the legal right to file a personal injury lawsuit against you or the property to recover their damages and compensation for their pain and suffering.
This makes it essential to protect yourself by eliminating hazards before listing your property or placing your home for viewing by prospective buyers. Some things you can do to minimize these risks include:
Inspect the house for STF injury hazards:
Eliminating hazards is the best way to prevent injuries. It helps you avoid coming out as a negligent homeowner in the eyes of the law. To do this, consider inspecting your home thoroughly, checking for any apparent hazards of slipping, tripping, and falling. Check out for uneven surfaces, slippery floors, cracks, and damaged flooring. If not your agent, consider letting a friend or neighbor with a keen eye stroll with you during the exercise. They might spot something you missed!
Assess other injury risks:
Are there any other dangers that might cause injury or bodily harm to a visitor? In this case, you have to be really thoughtful. Think of things like a loaded gun in a drawer or a faulty garage door that could snap any time when someone is entering.
Are there heavy items stored overhead that could be unstable and collapse as a visitor passes nearby? Are there any hazardous chemicals, medical drugs, or needles that curious children or pets could grab? How about an open or unfenced swimming pool where a minor or pet could easily drown? You are better off and safer from home seller lawsuits if you can think of any risk and possibility of injury to visitors in your home.
3. Failure to Warn or Fix Hazardous Conditions
If you identified a hazard or risk of injury, it is your responsibility as the property owner to fix it. Conduct repairs or warn visitors about it. This is why you often come across some signs written: “Beware –Slippery Floor”, “Low Ceiling – Watch Your Head”, or “Ongoing Renovation – Wear safety Gear” on public and private property. If you cannot remove the hazard, the best you can do is warn your visitors about it. Failure to do this can attract hefty costs in a lawsuit if someone gets injured in your home when viewing the property or rendering some kind of service.
For instance, you may have ordered a pizza during an open house, and the delivery guy gets injured on their way down the staircase just after handing the lunch to you upstairs. While the pizza guy may not have been there as a prospective buyer, they were legally there, so the liability lies with the property owner. This is why attorneys will generally recommend conducting repairs or fixing such hazards beforehand.
4. Aggressive Dogs/Animals
If you have a furry buddy in your home, it is advisable to watch them keenly when selling your home. They are family members just like humans, but pets – especially dogs, are wired differently. Some dogs can get aggressive, frightened, or agitated by the presence of someone they don’t know or like.
Maybe they’re too friendly or just not used to many people. Even the usually calm and chilled-out canine could end up overreacting or acting differently. If they are not well contained, such a canine or feline friend could end up biting or scratching someone. Furthermore, not everyone loves or understands pets, so the friendly gesture of jumping onto someone could cause a fall, create a fight, or lead to other messes.
The most unfortunate part is that the premise liability and seller insurance may not always cover lawsuits and injuries from pets. This is not to mention the limitations seen with policy limits.
Home sellers are faced with several risks of litigation. Understanding these risks is the first and most crucial step in knowing how to avoid them. Before selling, inspect the home for any hazards, eliminate them, or find the best way to warn visitors and ensure their safety. Most importantly, your agent and prospective buyers should be informed of any risks of injury or areas of concern. Always keep your pet/s well contained to ensure everyone is safe during property visits.
Reviewing these risks with a real estate agent and your insurance carrier will provide additional advice and information that may keep you out of litigation.