Most buyers of real estate in Rhode Island are well aware of the risks involved in purchasing property in the state. The seller of property does have obligations to notify a buyer of known defects, as well as to not defraud a buyer by knowingly misrepresenting the characteristics or conditions of a property, but the primary risk lies with the buyer. Title insurance helps to alleviate the risks of a dispute over ownership or property boundaries, and buyers are encouraged to have thorough property inspections prior to entering into a purchase contract. Even when all precautions are taken, the purchaser of a property may learn that there are significant problems or defects with the property, which sometimes leads them to pursue legal action against the seller. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently addressed a case that was filed by the buyer of commercial property in Rhode Island, which alleged that the seller failed to disclose the presence of harmful asbestos roofing tiles, which were time-consuming and expensive to remove.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case purchased a commercial property from the defendant in 2012. Shortly after completing the purchase, the plaintiff discovered that the property contained a significant amount of asbestos, which would need to be removed before he could continue using the property. The plaintiff sued the defendant in an attempt to recover damages. As part of the lawsuit, the plaintiff was required to disclose any experts that he would call to testify about the issues in the case. The plaintiff’s attorney failed to meet the deadline set by the court for expert disclosure, and the defendant attempted to have the case dismissed. The court allowed the plaintiff one more chance to disclose the experts he would use, after which the plaintiff only successfully disclosed one witness. The witness disclosed by the plaintiff was a general contractor who did not claim to be an expert at asbestos or asbestos abatement. On the defense’s motion, the court entered judgment in favor of the defendant on all of the asbestos-related claims.
The plaintiff appealed the lower court ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, arguing that the proposed witness had sufficient knowledge of the relevant areas of expertise to offer an opinion on the issue. The high court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments, ruling that the basic knowledge held by the plaintiff’s expert was not sufficient to meet the bar for the required expert testimony. The court found that the plaintiff’s witness was not a qualified expert, and the lower court had properly disposed of the plaintiff’s claims relating to the existence or removal of asbestos. As a result of the high court ruling, the plaintiff will be unable to recover any damages he has suffered b y addressing the undisclosed asbestos in the property he had purchased.
Making a case for breach of contract or fraud over a real estate claim can be a complicated and taxing prospect. Failure to properly prepare for a case may cause an aggrieved party to permanently forfeit their right to recover damages on a claim. If you or a loved one has questions about a lawsuit relating to a real estate transaction, it is important to retain skilled counsel early on in the process. A qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney will understand deadlines and witness requirements, allowing their client the best chance to prevail in the case. The experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo are diligent and pay attention to all of the details required to successfully build and argue a real estate case. Our lawyers represent clients in Rhode Island in most claims relating to real estate, including breach of contract and fraud claims. If you have questions about a Rhode Island property law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.