Read Nick's Post on Structural Framing, then read this

Opinions Vary

Often, Inspectors pontificate in areas where even experts agree to disagree. A case in point involves the denial of a new trial brought by clients of a builder, where the builder was alleged to have constructed a defective house. The lower court held that the builder was not negligent, and the Plaintiff was entitled to zero dollars.

For the purposes of discussion, three items were alleged to constitute defective construction: a footing poured out of spec (differed from what the Architect’s plans called for), improper height of foundation walls, and floor trusses that did not reach nor bear on the foundation walls (too short).

Expert witnesses were brought in by the Plaintiffs, and included an engineer and a home inspector. The builder brought in his own experts.

The first item of discussion was the short trusses. The general opinion of the inspector and engineer was that the truss installation was improper, and that the wall was improperly constructed to support the load of the trusses. In the end, the truss manufacturer’s own engineers visited the site and concluded that the wooden wall, constructed to support the trusses, was adequate. Strike One.

The second item of discussion had to do with the height of the foundation wall. Apparently, the Client wanted 8’ ceilings in the basement, and there was a discrepancy between the height of the poured walls, and overall height at the bottom of the floor trusses. The builder simply built-up the sill plate to make up the difference in height (which apparently was off by a few inches). The Plaintiffs contended that this was defective construction. The builder countered that the sill was bolted to the foundation, and subsequent sill boards were adequately nailed in place. The jury agreed. Strike Two

The third discussion centered on the size of the poured footings. Although the Architect’s plans called for a larger size footing, the builder poured something much smaller. The Plaintiffs contended that the builder failed to follow the plan and that the footings in question would fail. Clearly the footings were smaller than what was specified by plan, and the builder ackinowledged this. So what was his defense? Two things: 1) the builder produced a document signed by the Plaintiffs whereby he informed them of the precise size footing he intended to pour and that the Architect’s plans were for guidance only and 2) the Plaintiff’s own footing expert testified that the footings could fail; not will fail. Strike Three

The point in all of this is that we, as inspectors, see anomalies all the time. We comment on them, but really need to be careful to remember that we do so from the perspective of quality, primarily. In the examples given, common sense would dictate that things went terribly wrong with this build. However, in the end, even the so-called experts failed to convince a jury or appellate judges that the defects were severe enough to allow the Plaintiff’s to walk away from the dwelling and recover damages from the builder.

Even my wife and I got into a quasi-heated discussion over this. As a draftsperson, she tends to be more of a purist, and believes there was no way the builder should have gotten away with this. She asked me if I would ever accept this type of workmanship if it were my own home. My answer was, of course, “no”.

But, to the point… even when things seem as if they are black and white, and a court case looks like a slam-dunk, one may never lose sight of the fact that litigants lose in court all the time. Sometimes, the judicial system throws you a curve ball.

So, imagine you are the home inspector who opens mouth and inserts foot. Our opinions vary and often we interject opinion, which can sometimes be used against us. Be careful out there, because for every expert inspector there is an engineer or architect to dispute our findings, or the findings of another licensed professional.

Where the common sense of the judiciary should be automatic, at the end of the day many folks find themselves on the outside looking in. It’s difficult to make sense of it all, when things seem to be so black and white. In the end, nothing is as it seems.


This example was a court case called Landwehr vs. Mitchell, in the State of Kentucky :wink:

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Kentucky…need you say more. lol
Not to dis my nearby neighbors and the state from which all my kinfolk originate, but this state like many others do not require that builders no what they are doing.
My brother was looking at a house last year… I drove up there to do a visual on it… I could have spent a day just writing up the serious framing defects that existed…they were getting ready to install drywall that day.

My brother has asked that when it comes time to build that I take off about 4 months and build it for him or at least get it the dry in stage.

As to the builder in question, he obviously has some serious connections with the floor joist company in that they are basically taking responsibility for floor system.

The ceiling height was no doubt explained away in that the present height does not adversely affect the home.

I am surprised about footing issue but then again trying to find 12 people with common sense…that is all but impossible…can you say OJ.

I do think that many juries get tired of listening to the so called experts in their respective fields only for them to disagree with one another.
Many times it comes down to how well the case was documented, how well the witnesses were prepped (you can can an expert who comes across as a dumbarse or to0 technical) and how well prepared are all parties. I can guarantee that the plantiff did not have a soil engineer do a compaction test on the areas in questions…that would have gone along way in establishing the adequacy of the footings.

Finally let me say that I believe there is a relationship between the area of expertise an inspector has in any given field (if any) and what he puts on his/ her reports; I have reviewed HI reports from a contractor side and wondered why the inspector called something out that was common knowledge within the industry and at the same time have seen things that should have been called (by both HI and code officials) yet were missed, especially with framing, siding and roofs.

It is indeed interesting to get the juries perspective…what an officer of the court, plaintiff and/or defendant states versus what the jury hears can be two different things.

Thanks for the info…