What does a fatal electric shock and a law suit against a termite company for a real estate inspection have in common? The answer, both are #1 killers. Electric shock kills more technicians than any chemical and termites and termite damage is the #1 reason for most litigation for the company. Coincidentally neither one involves chemicals that cause deadly disease or contamination of property. Not to say this doesn’t happen but if you listen to some people you’d swear the evil bug man causes untold death wherever his little truck takes him… but I digress.
Law suits are a scary thing and the system isn’t really fair 100% of the time for either party. Facts are facts and truths are absolute, that is until you make it to that big ominous room where decisions are not always made on the real facts or circumstance. I’m not a lawyer nor do I want you to take this article as legal advice. Whoa, was that a disclaimer? I merely want to tell you about my two adventures in court and perhaps you can learn and avoid my mistakes.
My first day in court was due to a wdo ( wood destroying organism report) that I did on a vacant home, twice. The first report I did was for the bank as a repo home and everything was fine. I crawled the attic, checked the monolithic slab foundation and all I could find were some old drill marks that indicated a previous termite treatment. The report was given and that was that. 3 months later the home had a buyer and since my letter was out of date I was called to do another. Again I went through the inspection and filed a report and figured I was done. I did however make one vital mistake that cost me dearly and hopefully will not happen to you.
About 2 months later a call came in that this new owner had flying termites and needed me right away. Now I’ve handled plenty of these situations and a few times even paid for a door jam or have done a free treatment in an effort to make things right even though I felt that these termites were not visible or detectable at the time of my visit. In this situation however I immediately knew I could do nothing for the new owner. She was quite upset and nothing I said was getting through. She wanted way more than a few flying bugs and a 2 foot section of baseboard was worth and after awhile (10 minutes) she told me to leave.
Now by all rights I figured the law was on my side, the report states right on the front page that it is a visible inspection and only good for the day of the inspection. It also states that I am only allowed to probe or tap suspected areas but in no way remove or deface any of the property. The small board she ripped out did have evidence but it would have been impossible to see since it was just surface damage on the edge facing the wall. I also was a little suspicious since there were only 5 or 6 swarmer termites in a baggy and that she went to Home Depot to have them identified. To be honest I walked out of there just a bit cocky and definitely put off by her ignorance and arrogance. I thought I heard the end of things when over a month went by but one day while in the front yard a sheriff came to my gate with a certified letter. I was being sued.
At that point I lost all over confidence and began to worry and second guess my every move. I called every friend in the business and got advice from anyone I could. The suit was for $3500.00 and I did think about a lawyer and in retrospect should have called one. The reason I did not was because of a legal tip I got from a friend. Piercing the Corporate Veil was a term I had never heard but my colleague told me since I was incorporated she could not sue me personally because of this rule. I truly don’t understand it all to this day but I thought between this and the plain language on the wdo form I would be fine. Not!
The first step to any suit is called mediation. This process puts the two parties in the same room with a trained mediator and they try to work things out which is suppose to speed things up in a clogged system. My little buzz saw was still very indignant and refused to hear anything I had to say. She instead handed me a report from a repair company that wasn’t licensed in termite control but ‘specialized in termite repair.’ Their method of determining the extent of the damage was to drive an awl in the studs around the suspected areas looking for ‘damaged’ wood. If the awl goes in the wood is termite damaged, if it does not it’s fine. Wow, what a scientific method! I asked her how he knew it wasn’t wood rot or shoddy construction and that just got her madder. By now I was ready to scream and explained that I in no way was even allowed to do such a thing and how could she expect anyone to find the same “alleged damage” using only my eyes. The mediator was useless in my mind as she also didn’t seem to comprehend what I was saying and it seemed to me that she wanted me to settle. The mediator scribbled some notes on a form and gave us each a copy and sent us back out to the court room. When I looked at the notes and the boxes she checked I think I had steam coming out of my ears. The note said I was “not compliant” and unwilling to mediate but what it didn’t say was that now I was ready for bear and that I have had enough!
Please read part 2 and part 3.