1. Get a lawyer. Develop a relationship with a lawyer before you need one. Choosing the person you want to represent you should not be a hasty decision. Shop around and find a lawyer you feel comfortable with that knows something about your business. This familiarity will decrease the time it takes your lawyer to understand your claims.
2. Read your contract (and make sure you understand it). If you are not clear on what you will be required to do, ask. Do not sign a contract unless the written terms clearly indicate your duties as you understand them. If the contract says one thing but the other party is telling you something else, realize that you will be held to the contract, not the verbal agreement.
3. Avoid trouble. Don’t get into a contract with a person who has the reputation of always getting into disputes. In the long run, not taking certain jobs is more profitable than taking some. Likewise, don’t take a job you cannot handle.
4. Identify problems early. Try to diffuse problems before they become disputes. Disputes usually occur when people allow small problems to linger without addressing them. Keeping communication lines open is essential to avoiding disputes. When disputes arise, contact your lawyer and insurance carrier as soon as possible. A little time and money up front is an investment that may pay off in avoiding a lawsuit.
5. Keep good records. Be precise in requests for change orders. Document problems on the site giving a detailed description of causes, effects, and costs. Take pictures and/or video. Record who was on the site to witness the problem. Don’t waste your opportunity to create proof of your claim. Cases are won and lost on brief notes and 3x5 pictures.
6. Abide by accepted procedures. Do not deviate from the standard in your industry for your type of work. Using unproven methods is a risky business. If the customer wants something out of the ordinary, give them a written notice of the potential problems and make them sign it.
7. Limit your exposure to liability. Get insurance. Incorporate or form some liability limiting entity. Be properly licensed. Get regular training and attend seminars covering topics in your field. Avoid construction work where the risks involved are not greater than the profit you might get.
Even the most careful person can be sued. However, following the above advice can also greatly enhance your ability to resolve those disputes that turn into litigation in a swift and favorable way.
This article is meant as general knowledge and not meant to substitute for legal advice on specific issues. If you have a question, please call Doug McClanahan at 861-0693.