One of the areas I see the most in my consumer protection practice involves claims having to do with botched or abandoned jobs by contractors. These jobs range from small remodel or repair projects to full-scale renovation and remodeling of an entire house. Unfortunately, even when consumers do their due diligence and check references, licenses, bonds and insurance information, shady contractors can still look legitimate and get jobs with fast talk and low bids.
So, you got taken for a ride by a contractor. He has taken most of the money for the job, but left the work mostly unfinished – and what he has completed looks terrible and might even be dangerous. Maybe he has damaged your house or other personal property. Maybe you have even suffered personal injuries as a result of the contractor’s work. What do you do now?
There are a number of issues that come into play in a claim against a contractor, and it is important to have an experienced attorney assist you so that you can prevail. The two biggest issues have to do with insurance and the contractor’s bond. Let’s look at each a little more closely.
Once you have consulted your attorney and determined that there are indeed valid claims against the contractor, often times the first step is to put together a comprehensive demand package and send it to the contractor’s insurance company – assuming he has insurance. This package will contain all of the factual and legal details upon which you are basing your claims, and will tell the contractor and his insurance company how much you will be entitled to recover in damages. From there you and your attorney will try to negotiate a settlement of your claims and avoid the need for filing a lawsuit.
When drafting the demand package, it is imperative to keep in mind that most contractors’ insurance policies contain certain exclusions. The most common exclusion that comes into play is the “your work” or “workmanship” exclusion, which states that there will be no coverage for damages that are considered poor workmanship. This means that damages such as the cost of tearing out the bad work and having a qualified contractor replace it may very well not be covered by the policy. Because of these exclusions, it is important to draft your demand in a manner that focuses on damages that will be covered. Often times these damages include damage to existing structure, water damages caused to the house or personal property caused by the contractor’s work, the cost of replacing personal property items damaged by the contractor, and even personal injury damages. When putting together your demand, you and your attorney need to focus your analysis and documentation on these covered areas. Otherwise, the insurance company may simply deny coverage for the claims, and will not participate in settlement negotiations at all.
If coverage issues, or the lack of any insurance at all, lead to failed settlement negotiations then it becomes necessary to sue the contractor. When filing a lawsuit against a contractor, you also want to include the contractor’s bonding company in the lawsuit. That way, even if the contractor has no assets or is otherwise judgment-proof, you can still recover any available bond funds. Washington law requires that specialty contractors maintain a bond of $6,000.00 and general contractors maintain a $12,000.00 bond. This is often not enough to make the injured party whole, but it is better than nothing if the contractor cannot satisfy a judgment.
Washington has several very specific requirements regarding the procedure for naming a contractor’s bond company in a lawsuit. You must follow these requirements when drafting, filing and serving your complaint on the contractor and his bond company. Likewise, there are certain things that must be specifically enumerated in your complaint in order to properly raise the cause of action against the bond company. An experienced attorney will ensure that all of the requirements are met when filing suit. Furthermore, there are various nuances and procedures when it comes to settling with a bond company in the event of a default judgment against the contractor, or certain other situations. An experienced attorney can assist you in making sure that you maximize your recovery.
There are a number of other issues that come into play when pursuing a claim or filing a lawsuit against a contractor. There are different Washington statutes that may be relevant, such as the contractor’s registration statutes and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, amongst others. McNeice Wheeler Green, PLLC can assist you in evaluating your construction defect and other claims against a contractor, and make sure that all the intricacies and nuances of claims negotiation and litigation are taken care of to maximize your recovery. Contact the office today if you feel you have a claim against a contractor.