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Example case: a high value car specialist/expert sold me a car with a serious defect they should have known of and disclosed (such as past accident history) while warranting the condition was good/undamaged. It could actually be any high value asset sold by a skilled specialist. The vendor is likely (in my view) to dispute the scale of the issue, and can't be asked to do any repair. They probably should inspect and may wish to commission a report. For whatever reason I don't seek repudiation/rescission, perhaps I've begun using the asset and I will best mitigate my loss by paying some specialist to repair the defect. But I need to do the repair work soon, it can't be left long. So, anticipating at least a legal claim (High Court rather than County Court size) even if it resolves before a hearing, I want to write to them and say something like this:

"I currently intend to have the asset repaired, to minimise my losses by repairing the defect, and this must be done very soon. I therefore place you on notice that if you wish to examine the defects yourself, you must make arrangements to do so within 21 days, and if you choose not to do so, then after this time it may not be possible to do so other than from photographs and engineer's reports. This may be detrimental to any defence if the matter goes to a court."

My question is, the last part absolutely covers me and ensures any claim that they couldn't examine, doesn't prejudice my position. But it's formal and also quite antagonistic. I'd like to word it a lot softer by missing out the words "I therefore place you on notice that", and simply start with "If you wish....", which makes it softer but doesn't remove any of the rest.

My question is, is there any magic about the formal wording "I place you on notice that" (or magic effect on the protection I get from those words), which will be lost if I don't use that exact form of words? Or can I reword it more collegially by removing that clause without impact?

Also does it add anything to have stated the effect if they do not do so ("This may be detrimental..."), if the matter proceeds to a court case?

  • Given the possible outcome if you get it wrong, this sounds like a situation where getting real legal advice is probably the best choice. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 21 '18 at 12:14
  • Its a hypothetical example cooked up for the question. I'm curious, as I read a lot on law and this turns up, whether this is a specific "magical" phrase that loses some legal glue if paraphrased, or if it's just a traditional way of lawyers saying "your lookout, don't come crying if you ignore it". As it pops up so often in legal cases, in almost those exact words: "A put B on notice that...", and not, say "A advised B that..." – Stilez Jun 22 '18 at 8:19
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The language "I therefore place you on notice that" in your proposed missive is superfluous and adds nothing that is legally relevant. Flourishes like that are common among former paralegals, court clerks, common law country notaries, and other non-lawyers who want to sound legalistic but don't really have the relevant legal knowledge.

It is common to say "I put so and so on notice that" in a legal opinion or a summary of a case, but mildly uncommon and not necessary to put those magic words in the notice itself in a situation like this where there is no prescribed statutory language that must be used on a specific legal form.

In this situation the important thing is that the person is actually made aware of the situation, not that you conform to a statutory form.

Also does it add anything to have stated the effect if they do not do so ("This may be detrimental..."), if the matter proceeds to a court case?

If they complain of a lack of an opportunity to inspect in a later court case, it allows you to say, "I told you so and I gave you a chance to do something about it" which might be fairly convincing to a judge and would probably overcome any arguments that you engaged in spoliation of evidence.

  • Thanks - I always wondered about this when reading law reports! Now I know! – Stilez Jun 22 '18 at 8:19
  • "Flourishes like that are common among ... non-lawyers": Are there no lawyers who use such language? Could it be a question of style? Perhaps British lawyers are fonder of such phrases. This reminds me of the car service that as posted its prices near a local supermarket under the title "Prominent Price List." I thought that this invoked some legal requirement to display prices prominently, but in the end I found that the name of the company is Prominent. – phoog Jun 22 '18 at 14:57
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    @phoog There are lawyers who use language like this, and heck, even I do sometimes. But, when lawyers do, it is usually to deliberately obscure what a document says and to awe the reader, when the reader is unsophisticated and prone to fearing and respecting anything associated with the formal legal system. – ohwilleke Jun 22 '18 at 15:08

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