There’s a memorable scene in the Coen Brothers film Blood Simple where a character named Marty played by Dan Hedeya is trying to hire a private investigator played by Emmett Walsh to kill both his unfaithful wife and her lover. But Marty keeps beating around the bush about the nature of the engagement. Finally, Emmett Walsh drawls “Can you tell me what you want me to do or is it a secret?”

I am constantly being reminded of that scene whenever I read demand letters from attorneys that fail to make even a pretense of articulating any sort of legal theory of liability upon which a claim against the home inspector could possibly be based. You would be surprised how often that happens. In my experience, about fifteen percent of the time.

Recently, a home inspector in New England contacted me after having received a number of letters from an attorney over an inspection that he had conducted on a colonial era home. While the letters all seek damages in the low five figures, not a single one of them lets on what the inspector missed or what needs to be repaired. Just a demand for money.

Now as a general matter, it bodes extremely well for the inspector when the attorney is incapable of stating exactly why the inspector is responsible for his client’s damages and exactly what those damages are. I have actually dispatched several of those claims by merely requesting that the attorney apprise me of his theory of liability so that “I will be in a better position to advise my client on how to proceed.” I never heard from them again. Really!

Of course, most demand letters do make a pretense of articulating a theory of liability and that theory can generally be summed up thus: some system in a house that you inspected experienced a failure since the attorney’s client took possession of the home and the local contractor that he hired to fix the problem told the attorney’s client that he could not believe that you could possibly have failed to see this accident-waiting-to-happen at the time of the inspection because it was that obvious. So the attorney’s client would like you to pay to replace the old system with a brand new one.

And that would be a winning theory were it not for its overreliance for its foundation on the post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

Those claims all go away secondary to the application of Force Ten levels of unassailable logic.

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