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Supreme Court kicks ‘buyer beware’ vs. disclosure case back to trial court

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A Lake County dispute over whether a buyer or seller is responsible for a few thousand dollars worth of home defects is headed back to the trial court after a divided Indiana Supreme Court ordered a legal do-over.

Justice Steven David wrote for the majority that the trial court applied the incorrect standard in ordering the sellers to pay the buyers a little more than $13,000 for repairs that had to be made after closing. The sellers represented in disclosure forms that they knew of no defects, and the buyers relied on that when they ordered a cursory inspection that turned up no problems.

The trial court found that the issues raised in the complaint “should have been obvious” to the sellers, a standard that David wrote was lower than “actual knowledge.” “This means that the trial court here applied the wrong legal standard to the facts, even assuming that those facts are sufficiently supported by the record. The judgment is therefore clearly erroneous,” David wrote in Barbara A. Johnson and William T. Johnson, Both Individually and as Trustees of the Barbara A. Johnson Living Trust Dated 12-17-1996 v. Joseph Wysocki and M. Carmen Wysocki, 45S04-1211-CT-634.

“We reverse the trial court and remand for new findings pursuant to this opinion,” David wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Justice Brent Dickson and Justices Mark Massa and Loretta Rush.

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in part and dissented in part. Agreeing that the trial court applied the wrong legal standards to facts of the case, and that Indiana’s Disclosure Statutes don’t trump the common law “caveat emptor” principle, Rucker said the trial court nevertheless decided the case on the facts and the matter didn’t merit revisiting.

“It is certainly true the trial court did not use the magic words ‘actual knowledge,’” Rucker wrote in the one-paragraph dissent of a 16-page opinion. “But as recounted in the Facts section of the majority opinion, the record before us is more than sufficient to support the conclusion that the Johnsons had such knowledge of the various defects prior to the time they sold the property to the Wysockis. I would therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects and put this litigation to rest.”

 


 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

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