N.J. weighs plan to legally protect volunteer inspectors in time of disaster

 Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald discusses his proposed legislation at a New Jersey Statehouse news conference. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald discusses his proposed legislation at a New Jersey Statehouse news conference. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A year after Superstorm Sandy damaged 346,000 homes in New Jersey, one of the leaders of the state Assembly is urging lawmakers to approve a bill that could help residents get back in their homes more quickly after any future natural disasters.

Officials can be overwhelmed trying to perform needed safety inspections of homes and businesses damaged during disasters, said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.

He’s proposed legislation to help shield licensed architects and engineers from lawsuits if they volunteer to do those inspections for free at the request of public safety officials within 90 days of a declared disaster.

“Their liability coverage stands there for certain types of negligence, wanton gross negligence, but not to subject them to frivolous lawsuits,” said Greenwald, D-Camden.

Jack Purvis, the president of the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers, said without lawsuit protection, his members are wary of getting involved.

“This quick assessment is essential in the recovery of a disaster,” he said. “This will greatly decrease the time it takes to address reconstruction which ultimately will get people back in their homes and businesses at a greater speed.”

But Ann Vardeman with New Jersey Citizen Action is concerned the bill would reduce consumer protections.

“If somebody did make a mistake and something horrible happened, who would be held responsible then?” she said.

Greenwald says 26 other states already have enacted similar laws.

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