How a Home Inspector Can Stop Defamation

by Mark Cohen, J.D., LL.M., InterNACHI General Counsel, and
Nick Gromicko, Founder, InterNACHI
 

 

Sellers and their agents often blame home inspectors when an inspector’s report causes the buyer to back out of the deal.  These sellers and agents will rarely be able to successfully sue the inspector because they have no standing (they were not the inspector's client).  Sometimes, disgruntled sellers and agents resort to publicly attacking the inspector by posting defamatory statements about them on consumer review websites, such as Angie’s List or Yelp, or on real estate blogs. 

If you learn that someone is defaming you, here is a sample letter you can use to try to stop it.  As always, have your lawyer review it.  InterNACHI can also intercede in an effort to stop the defamation.

  

[Address]

[Date]

RE: Defamation

Dear __________________:

You made defamatory statements about me that damaged my reputation as a home inspector.   Specifically, you made the following false statements:

[Describe each false statement, when it was made, on what website it was made or what publication it appeared in, what was said or written about you, and who heard or read the statement.  Consider attaching proof of the statement and/or copies of the defamatory writings.]

The law is clear that when you make defamatory statements about a private person in his trade, business or profession, it is defamation per se.  In such cases, the law presumes injury and the victim need not prove actual damages.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this principle as fully consistent with the U.S. Constitution.  See, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).  In one recent case, a Virginia jury awarded a home inspector actual damages and exemplary damages against a person that had posted defamatory statements about the inspector on Angie’s List.  See, Sessa v. Shaffer, Virginia Beach Circuit Court Case No. CL 12-5448.


[INSERT APPROPRIATE PARAGRAPH; SEE BELOW.]


I take my professional reputation very seriously.  To that end, I demand that you immediately retract your defamatory statements.  I specifically ask that you take the following actions:

[State what corrective action you want the potential defendant to take.]

Your willingness to take these actions immediately will play an important role in whether I decide to sue you for defamation.

If you refuse to take these corrective measures, a judge or jury may consider your refusal as evidence of malice and may award me exemplary damages.


If you believe your statements are not defamatory, I ask that you immediately provide me with copies of all documents you intend to rely on.  I also request the name, address, phone number and email address of each person you believe can testify that the statements were not defamatory.  I need this information to determine whether to file suit.  If I must file suit, the court will likely require you to provide this information to me anyway as part of the mandatory disclosure and discovery process.

Otherwise, please comply with my request for corrective action, as noted above, immediately.  After you have done so, please email me at [your email address] notifying me, and include any relevant links to show that your defamatory remarks have been deleted.


Sincerely,

Joe Home Inspector

 

If you're writing to a past client who defamed you, insert this paragraph in the space noted above:

I complied with our contractual obligations and with state law.  The contract you signed clearly states that we would perform the inspection in accordance with InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice and any applicable state laws.  I did that.  Your statements falsely represent that we were negligent and/or that I breached our contract.  Your statements hurt me in my profession, which is defamation per se.


If you're writing to a Realtor or other third party, insert this paragraph in the space noted above:

I am disturbed that you made your statements without knowing the terms of my contract with [name of client] or the scope of InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice (www.nachi.org/sop).  The contract clearly states that I would perform the inspection in accordance with InterNACHI’s SOP and any applicable state laws. I did that. Your statements falsely represent that I was negligent and/or that I breached the contract.  Your statements hurt me in my profession, which is defamation per se.  In 2012, a home inspector in Virginia won an $11,000 judgment against a person who had defamed him on Angie’s List.  He won another $11,000 in punitive damages.  (See, Sessa v. Shaffer, Circuit Court for Virginia Beach, Case No. CL12-5448.)  


You'll find templates for letters to parties to stop defamation (and more) at InterNACHI's Library of Documents for Inspectors.

Remember to always be pro-active in protecting your reputation and that of your business.  Be sure to set Google Alerts so that you can keep track of any instances that your name and your company's name appear online.  If someone libels you, you must defend yourself by taking immediate action.  Your livelihood may depend on it.
 
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