When you are a contractor, you are already taking a considerable amount of risks every day just by being on the job site. When you have heavy power tools, cranes, lifts, automobiles, sharp tools, harsh chemicals and human error, an accident can literally just be around the corner. However, in this business, if money-costing mistakes are consistently made on projects, the client could decide to sue you.
To decrease the chances of your contractor’s business getting sued, follow these steps and stay out of the courtroom.
1. Contracts. We know that contracts are not anyone’s favorite thing, but they are very important. If you are asked to sign a contract make sure, you read it all before you sign your name. The contract will have information on it such as if you are required to have all your subcontractors have their own insurance policies. Also, if you are required to list the client as an additional insured. It will also let you know if you are required to provide on-site safety training and much more. If you have just had a job accident and then you start to read your contract, it may already be too late. So read the contract first. Ask for an extra day if you need so that you can thoroughly read the whole contract.
2. Better call Saul. It is best to consult with your lawyer before you sign anything. Lawyers can be expensive and can make you not want to speak with them unless it is an emergency, but look at it this way. Is it cheaper to pay the lawyer’s $100 thirty-minute consultation fee to review contracts with you. Or is it cheaper to get sued by a client for $10,000? The lawyer may have been able to steer you clear of whatever it is that has the client angry enough to sue you.
3. Ask the client to put it in writing. It is okay to ask your client to put things they say you must do and the things they say you do not have to do in writing. You can say it in a way that is non-threatening such as “Okay, we can handle this job here, but can you write down for me again the areas that you will be handling in-house?” Now you have a legal record of the client saying you were only responsible for a particular part of a larger job. Nothing would be worse than after one month goes by, and you and your crew have completed your portion of the job, only to have the client say “You’re not done? You were also supposed to complete this area too?” This does happen as people are not robots and do forget things. However, now when this occurs, you have your copy of what the client typed up that outlines your exact job. Priceless!
4. A photo is worth a million words. After you and your crew win a project bid. Take photos of the site before you start and after you are completed with the job. Also, take photos at regular intervals at every stage of completed work. Make sure every photo also has a clear date stamp on them too. When you come across problem areas with the project, photograph that area too and inform the client before you touch that area. In the event this client sues you for something, this will vastly eliminate any exaggeration of the conditions from the client’s point of view that didn’t actually exist.
5. Don’t let the client push you around. The client is just that, your client. They are not your boss and do not own your company. If you are working on a project for them and come across an issue with the architectural or engineering plan, inform the client right away. After further review by the client, don’t let them tell you to “Just handle it, and I’ll pay you extra.” They may indeed pay you extra, but what good does that do if you do not have any of the expertise or qualifications to fix the architectural or engineering plans? Let’s say you mess up very badly trying to “Just handle it.” Now the client can still sue you, and this could have been avoided altogether by just speaking up. Let the client know that you are not qualified to perform those other services, but you know a guy. Then this potential disaster is off your plate and you and your crew move on to the next job.
Remember to always get the proper protection for your contracting business by talking with a trained insurance expert. Dempsey, Weiss & Associates is always available to assist you with all your insurance questions and help make sure you’re not missing any important coverages!