by Nick Gromicko and Mark Cohen
In 2012, a Virginia home inspector won a judgment for $11,000 for defamation, and an additional $11,000 in punitive damages. The case, Sessa v. Shaffer and Angie’s List, Inc., was filed in the Circuit Court for Virginia Beach.
The background of the case is as follows. The inspector and defendant lived in the same condominium complex. They became involved in a dispute over HOA issues. The defendant then created an alias on Angie’s List and wrote a negative review of the inspector, even though she had never hired him to perform an inspection.
Because an inspector’s reputation is critical to his or her success, you should be justifiably concerned that a dissatisfied client (or someone else with a grudge) might post negative reviews about you or your company on the Internet using Angie’s List, Google Reviews, and similar online forums.
As an inspector, if you become aware of a negative review, you should promptly send a cease-and-desist letter to the person who posted it. You should also write to the site
that published the review and explain the facts, and ask that the site's administrator remove the
negative review. If a client wrote the
review, it may be appropriate to include the contract that the client signed, along with the SOP that you followed.
If the author of the negative review or the site owner does not remove the post, you should consider legal action. In this regard, it's important to try to document your economic damages. One way to do this is to compare the volume of phone calls or revenue you were receiving before the negative review was published with the volume of calls or revenue after the review was published.
It’s also important to make sure your contract or pre-inspection agreement contains a clause that provides that your client must pay your attorney’s fees if you prevail in any lawsuit against you. That provision would apply to a defamation suit.
Another case of note is Porter v. Joy Realty, Inc., 872 A.2d 848 (Pa. Super. 2005). In that case, an inspector noted a defect in his report. The real estate agent then made negative statements about the inspector to the inspector’s client. The trial court granted the agent’s motion for summary judgment, but the appellate court reinstated the lawsuit, holding that the inspector had alleged a valid claim. If a real estate agent has made a negative statement about you, you may want to refer to this case or provide a copy of the decision with your cease-and-desist letter to the agent.
Finally, if you sue a person for defamation, there may be circumstances under which the defendant’s homeowner’s policy will provide coverage. See, Pech v. Racine, 690 N.W.2d 96 (Wisc. App. 2004).
If you would like a copy of any of these cases, contact InterNACHI® at firstname.lastname@example.org. InterNACHI® has an extensive library of documents on this topic and significant experience in these cases. InterNACHI’s legal department stands ready to assist you and work with your attorney, if asked to do so.