There are often instances during construction projects where someone, a field superintendent, a manufacturer’s representative, a salesman, a consultant, etc. will “stop by” a job site and “inspect” work that is being done. Sometimes the inspection is needed before the manufacturer issues a warranty, or it may be done by the product distributor as a favor to the installer. These inspections usually do not result in changes or repairs, and often the inspector assures everyone that the installation is just fine. If the inspection is done because it is required by a contract, or otherwise, then obviously a duty to act reasonably is implied. Even in the absence of an obligation to perform such inspections, the law will impose a duty to act reasonably, if one who relies upon the work is harmed. Even if you are doing someone a favor, if you represent that the work was done properly, you could be liable if it turns out you were wrong.
New Jersey law holds that one who gratuitously undertakes to render services to another is bound to act in a reasonable manner, and he can be liable for damages, if he fails to do so. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323; Velasquez v. Jiminez, 172 N.J. 240 (2002). (Doctor who, although under no obligation to do so, assisted another doctor’s patient, was found liable for his negligence in providing that assistance.) See also Dawson v. Bunker Hill Plaza Associates, 289 N.J. Super 309 at 327 (App. Div. 1996). Additionally, the claimant must have reasonably relied upon the information or services provided. See Viducich v. Greater New York Mutual Insurance Co., 80 N.J. Super. 15, at 24 (1963).
So, for example, if a shingle manufacturer’s representative visits a job site where an authorized roofing contractor is installing his product, he may inspect the installation and verify that the installation is correct. There may even be a document memorializing his conclusion, such as a checklist with his signature. If the homeowner or his representative was aware of the representations of quality (perhaps by the issuance of a warranty) and if the inspections were done improperly, there is a negligence claim against the manufacturer. Where a contractor or a vendor performs a service, whether that is an estimate, an inspection, an evaluation or review of plans, if the job is done negligently, it does not matter if there was a contractual obligation to do the work, or if the defendant even got paid for the service, if damages result, then liability may be found.