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An Ounce of Legal Prevention

Question: Is an ounce of legal prevention worth a pound of cure?

The short (and unanimous) answer: Yes.

For the long answer, please read on.

The Danger Signs

In a perfect world, it’s a handshake and then we build. Then we’re paid. Then we’re happy ever after. The end.

Meanwhile, back in reality, things don’t always work that way. Scaffolding collapses, someone’s arm is broken; disagreements arise; contract language takes on dual meanings; promised payments stay promises, not cash.

What are the signs that legal action might be brewing?

AWCI’s general counsel, Don Gregory, Esq. of Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter in Ohio, says that “a serious jobsite accident is most likely going to lead to legal action. So would any situation with a large monetary impact on the contractor. Disputed change orders can also lead to legal actions.”

John Rapaport, director of operations and legal counsel of Component Assembly Systems, Inc. in New York, says, “The moment you hear about an injury to anyone on the job, you have to act.”

“With payment issues, the sign is usually that you’re no longer being paid. On occasion you receive written notice from a GC that you’re in not understand our common business practices.”

Aird agrees as well: “I have found arbitration to be a practical and usually fair means to resolving disputes. Legal action is always a loser for both parties.”

The long and the short: If the problem is communication, find a mediator. Gregory says mediation can be helpful. If the problem is technical, find an arbiter.

Ounces and Pounds

Once you sense legal trouble, your first thought should be how best to avoid it—communication, meditation, arbitration—whatever it takes in terms of ounces.

Still, the pragmatic side of you will always keep good records and have protocol and procedures in place to stay prepared for the worst. That will limit the pounds.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.

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