cliemt taking me to samll claims court,,

Discussion in 'Pesticide & Herbicide Application' started by ant, Aug 28, 2003.

  1. ant

    ant LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,469

    been applicating a lawn for 4 long's been hell dealing with this guy ..well last fall i removed him from my list.
    most of last season we were not aload to water...i got a few applications in and that was it..well come august he calls me up and asks me what's wrong with his lawn...i said that it needs water!i seeded him in september at no charge and when i was done i told him that i applied starter fert. and he would have to take care of it from this point on and that i could not take care of his lawn...he do a few on that road and it came in fine...well it's full of crab now ...he calls last week and asks me to take a look at it and i told him that i washed my hands on that job..he would have to call someone else..he said that i ----ed his lawn up and if i don't seed it he will see me in court..well today i get 2 cert.letters...and he is taking me to court..
    he is the same guy that i was telling you guys that i seen his lawn dry ..i said to him to increase the watering..he said it was being watered for 40 min. when he checked it was 4 min.
    i feel that 1000 lbs was off my back and now hes back again...
    any of you guys ever dealt with this?

  2. Tell the judge the same spcheal.

    Seed + water = grass. a no brainer.

    And don't forget, crabgrass seeds can sit dormant for like 8 years so with no control they will be back.
  3. KenH

    KenH LawnSite Bronze Member
    from CT
    Messages: 1,622

    When you are in court, act as professional as possible (thecnical), and bring as much info to back what you say up. I have been in small claims several times as a Tech. advisor for some friends and once the judge hears that you know what you are talking about vs. the other guys "My lawn is crap", it is a no brainer you will win.
  4. MrBarefoot

    MrBarefoot LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 515

    Yes, I have. And I can give you some great advice.

    First, calculate the cost of defense and compare that to the amount he is suing for, if it is not that great a difference try to settle the claim out of court. Having a judgment against you may impact your standing with the Better Business Bureau, or other organizations. So why run the risk if the difference is not great.

    Second, file a “motion for discovery” and ask that your client give you copies of his watering bills for the last year. This is valuable for two reasons.

    a. If you operate in an area where there is snow for some part of the year, you can compare the water use at that time to the water use during the time he should have been watering. If there is no significant water use increase then you can offer it as proof that the home owner did not “do his part” to finish the job.

    b. You can make the argument to the homeowner that his water bills don’t support his claim and use it as leverage to reduce his claim and try to settle for a sum worth it to you to make him go away.

    Third, go immediately to his property with a video camera, copy of today’s newspaper and a soil probe and make a video of you taking samples of his dry soil, make sure you show the newspaper to provide proof of the date.

    Fourth, search your paperwork and documentation for anything that informs the customer about what they must do to keep there lawn looking good and/or what they must do to get the benefit of work you did. This is kind of complicated to explain in a forum post or even in an email, so if you would like to call my office at (586) 427-4000 I would be happy to explain in greater detail.

    What I am driving at is that the homeowner has some measure of responsibility for the success of their lawn, no matter how much work we do to improve the lawn. If your documentation states in some manner what they must do, then that will limit your liability and shift an appropriate amount of responsibility to the homeowner. The exact wording will make a big difference.

    I realize that I keep using the words “settle” and I suspect you may not want to settle with him, but rather win. I submit that from a business perspective settling is better because you can get away with spending less and you can phrase the wording of the settlement paperwork so that there is no admission of responsibility or blame, and that all future claims arising from your service are waived forever, which would get this idiot out of your hair. If you lose a court case, you may lose more, and your client may invent some other way to bring cases against you.

    Settling is good also because no matter how strong your defense is, some judges are biased against business and you won’t get a fair hearing.

    I know I said a lot, and there is more to say on the issue.

    I wish you good luck and I would be happy to help more if I can. Feel free to contact me if you like.
  5. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647

    Thanks MrBarefoot.

    Great info

    Also why not go online to your local paper and go through the weather sections and document Daily temps and Daily precipitation.
  6. MrBarefoot

    MrBarefoot LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 515

    Few other things,

    Find out if your client has an attorney working for him. If he is, then even though you are going to small claims you may want to hire one also. This will help you avoid getting screwed by the other lawyer

    Since he is suing in small claims court, you have a lot of options before you. The advice about finding weather records on specific days is good also. You can also get the info from the National Weather Service.

    Your best defense (in my opinion) would be to show that you did everything in your power to give your client what he was paying for, and that your client made an honest mistake and sabotaged the work, or his negligence caused the work to yield diminished results.

    Anything you have that shows what you did and communicate what the homeowner needed to do will help you. If you can demonstrate that you have had success when the homeowner follows instructions (perhaps with another client that you get along with), that will help also.

    You can also call his neighbors and have them testify that he doesn’t take good care of his lawn.

    Once you have all that (make sure he knows you have the evidence mentioned before), you can send your client a letter (no phone conversations unless you can record them, and tell him it’s recorded). Tell him you want to end this dispute and make him go away, point out all the flaws in his argument. Put emphasis on how he, the homeowner, has at least 50% responsibility for the failure and mention any evidence you have to support that. Then bluntly state while you feel that you would prevail in court, it is in your interest to end this matter now. Then offer him the cost of your defense plus a little more (like 10% the cost of the seeding work). Put a 10 business day deadline on it and get a cashier check for that amount, photocopy it, write “VOID” in big letters on the copy of the check (make sure he can read the details though) and send the copy along with your certified letter.

    The reason for sending the check is to offer bait to settle. When he sees the money before him like that, he may get greedy and go for it. Of course he may counter offer and if he does then you negotiate what you can and get him out of your life.

    If you reach a settlement, make sure that you include in your settlement agreement that you admit no responsibility for the seed not sprouting and that this settlement ends any and all future claims that may get brought by him against you for the all the services you provided, forever.

    You can also put in a confidentiality clause so he can’t disparage your name, and put penalties in there if he does.

    Also include the check number in the agreement and write on the check that their endorsement on that check indicates their agreement to the settlement agreement and the terms contained therein.

    I hope I have not flooded you with “too much info”, and that it is helpful is some way.

    Good Luck.
  7. John Gamba

    John Gamba LawnSite Fanatic
    from ct
    Messages: 10,812

    You Only Got Two Certified Letters, Wait Till You Get SERVED!!!!!!!
  8. John Gamba

    John Gamba LawnSite Fanatic
    from ct
    Messages: 10,812

    Oh hes blowing smoke up your azzz.
  9. turfsolutions

    turfsolutions LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 855


    First off, sorry to hear about this jackass. Doesn't this guy have anything better to do with his time. Your a professional with a well established business. Bring business documentation / certification to prove your professionalism including as many references as you can list. You said you have other customers on his street. See if they can write you a reference showing your quality work and professional manner. Include pictures of the lawns on his street that you continue to maintain. Document on paper what was said and done between you and jackass. Finally, try not to stress about it. Easier said than done, I know I would be pretty irate at this guy. I wouldn't sweat it, unless this guy is connected I would say it is in the bag for you and you will have the last say. Good luck, keep us posted.

  10. bobbygedd

    bobbygedd LawnSite Fanatic
    from NJ
    Messages: 10,178

    ant, you are allowed to refuse certified letters, i suggest u do so. are they from him? or from an attorney?

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