Tips to Avoid Construction Litigation
Now that we've covered some of the construction issues that frequently come up during a project, let's discuss some tips to avoid construction litigation* in the first place. As you read through the following five tips to avoid construction litigation, you might think they seem like common sense, but in the chaos of dealing with the stress of a new project, it can be easy to forget a couple critical steps. Even in the case that you have a disagreement with project collaborators, by having all your ducks in a row, you can quickly resolve the issue and get back on track. Minor arguments don't need to lead to legal action - and by using these pointers to diffuse situations before getting lawyers involved, you can maintain positive professional relationships and gain repeat business.
It's important to resolve disputes with subcontractors as soon as possible. The longer you spend arguing, the more risk you run of holding up another subcontractor - leading to a ripple effect of delays and crippling progress on your entire project.
*Disclaimer: By reading this blog post on how to avoid construction litigation, we do not guarantee that you will avoid disputes or lawsuits (just covering our ground here).
Just like in any relationship, communication is key. Poor communication can result in botched project results, injuries, and even fatalities, which then turn into lawsuits. If you keep an open line of communication, you'll find that there is less room for error when it comes to project execution, and in the end, all parties end up paid, alive, and satisfied with the results.
Every step of the way, you should communicate clearly and directly, and in the digital age there's no excuse not to. In addition to texts, calls, and emails, there is construction software that will automatically send data from the field straight to the office. If any incident occurs on the jobsite, the project owner can instantly be informed, so there's no surprises when the build is complete. By building strong work partnerships, you can benefit from repeat business and referrals, and make sure the job gets done right every time. In the case that a disagreement does occur, an amicable business relationship can also help with reaching a solution quickly and smoothly - without involving a court room.
Pay Attention to the Contract
Contracts are the base cause of nearly all construction disputes, but if you read and follow a contract as written, you'll avoid litigation, and your projects will be completed faster. A thorough contract will state exactly what is expected throughout the duration of a project, what compensation will be given, and by what dates milestones must be met. When a contract is signed, it means that you are all in agreement to the aforementioned terms. Essentially, if a GC or sub strays from the contract's guidelines, and the project owner isn't satisfied, it's the contractor's own darn fault!
Therefore, it's always best to err on the side of caution and set realistic timelines and budgets for the project when writing the contract. The point of signing a contract isn't just to benefit the project owner, but also, to ensure that contractors are given clear instructions on how the owner wants the structure to be built, and guarantee that they will receive compensation upon completion. As long as you carefully and precisely follow contracts, there will be less disagreements, and you won't have to worry about filing a lawsuit, or getting sued.
Maintain Searchable Records
If your current document management system involves a bunch of papers jammed into dusty binders, this one's for you. When it's crunch time, how are you going to know exactly where that one daily report is stored? What if someone threw it out, or it got lost over the years? If you can't pull up paperwork to prove that something did or did not happen - your claim is a lost cause. The proof is in the pudding - and in this case, the pudding is the documentation. You know what's tricky to keep track of? Individual pieces of paper. You know what's not? Neatly stored files in a cloud-based system.
In another nod to modern technology, current project management softwares available on the market provide perfect platforms for digitally storing significant photos and reports that can serve as evidence in case of a dispute. If the right documents are produced quickly enough, you can likely avoid construction litigation entirely.
Although people always say, "accidents happen," that doesn't mean they have to occur on your jobsite. With proper risk management practices, hazards can be taken care of before they are even present, so there never even has to be the threat of a personal injury lawsuit. By properly educating crews on how to deal with risks, and how to safely handle situations, you can proceed with the confidence that your workers are safe on the jobsite.
In the unfortunate case that there is an accident, it can be handled easily, so all you need focus on is helping your employee heal up. Holding safety meetings and sharing toolbox talks on a regular basis are excellent ways to make sure your crews are up-to-date on current safety practices. As long as you follow regulations, inform workers of any risks and how to deal with them, and routinely inspect the jobsite for hazards, you can stay protected from litigation.
Expect the Unexpected
The bottom line is that no matter how closely you follow these tips to avoid construction litigation, there's still a chance you're going to find yourself smack-dab in the middle of a dispute on your next project. That said, it's worth it to take all of these into account when planning and beginning a build as general housekeeping - especially because they all promote productive and safe jobsites. Clear communication, thorough contracts, organized documentation, and proper safety education help with project efficiency and when worked on proactively, can save you in a dispute scenario.
While taking care of all of this in pre-construction and throughout the duration of a project seems daunting, and you may not have followed this protocol during previous projects, fear not. With modern technology and software, it is now easier than ever to access the right tools to avoid construction litigation.