What is the “Last Man In” Theory?

This occurs when an inspector recommends a further evaluation of a particular component in the home and the last man in blames the inspector for not catching/recognizing a serious defect.

For example, one of our inspectors came across some ungrounded circuits during the electrical testing in a home inspection.  When he opened a junction box (which is not a requirement in the home inspection Standards of Practice), he noticed that there was brand new wiring.  He advised the realtor and clients that a further evaluation should be conducted by licensed electrician as it seemed that there was perhaps an issue with the wiring.  When the electrician did his inspection, he found active knob and tube wiring in one junction box.  He then opened up all the walls and saw that wires that were cut and a section of new wiring was connected to old active knob and tube wiring.  He then convinced the other parties that the home inspector should have caught this.

As a home inspection is a visual, non-invasive examination of the home, how can an inspector be held liable or responsible for not knowing about the new wiring behind the walls without opening them up? He doesn’t have x-ray vision!  The only reason this defect was caught was because the electrician opened up the walls.  In this particular scenario, the wiring behind the walls is known as a latent defect.

What is a Latent Defect?

A latent defect is one that is hidden and not readily apparent to a buyer upon a reasonable inspection (i.e. a leaky foundation, covered electrical or plumbing). Being that latent defects are not visually observable during an ordinary inspection, a seller may not be aware of their existence. A seller cannot be held liable for an unknown latent defect or for a defect that developed after the closing of a transaction. However, if a seller is aware of a latent defect, the seller must disclose such a defect to the buyer.

Refer to our Patent vs Latent Defects article for more information.