In the recent case of Riedel v. Fenasci, 2018-0540 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/28/18), _______ So. 3d _______, 2018 WL 6818716, home buyers sued the sellers and the involved real estate agents after mold was discovered shortly following the sale. This is a common fact pattern in humid South Louisiana. The buyers lost in the trial court when there was no evidence that the sellers or the agents knew of the problem. The result was affirmed by the First Circuit Court of Appeal.
The Riedels identified mold weeks after the closing and filed a claim with their homeowner’s insurer. But the claim was denied when the insurer’s inspection revealed long- term damage, rot, and deterioration in a ceiling due to water damage. That finding prompted the suit.
Against the sellers, the Riedels contended that they “had to have known” about the moisture and mold in the home prior to the sale. Because the home was sold “as is,” they had to establish fraud to recover. However, the sellers had not lived in the home for years and had received no complaints from tenants over this time. Under such facts, the claim of fraud was not supported.
The Riedels also sued both agents for negligent misrepresentation, and their own agent for breach of fiduciary duty. In assessing the claim against the agents, the Riedel Court agreed that real estate agents are liable for negligent misrepresentation when they fail to disclose hidden defects in the property which were known or should have been known to them. The Court also agreed that a purchaser’s real estate agent owes a fiduciary duty, the highest duty of care recognized by law. Nevertheless, when the plaintiffs’ own inspector found no visible evidence of mold prior to the sale and there was no indication that the agents possessed prior knowledge of the mold, the claim against the agents was also dismissed.
Marty Golden has been practicing law based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for over thirty years, concentrating in civil litigation primarily involving injuries, property damage, insurance coverage, and contract disputes. Much of his practice is defending and advising real estate agents in suits by property buyers and sellers, but Marty also defends other professionals, insurance companies, manufacturers, and business owners. Marty has a special interest in all things procedural, because they are the rules of the road for litigators and knowing them better than his opponent gives him a leg up in court.