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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
been applicating a lawn for 4 long years....it'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 fainted..lol...i 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?

ant
 

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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.
 

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Originally posted by ant
... any of you guys ever dealt with this
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.
 

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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.
 

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Ant,

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.

Kelly
 

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Originally posted by MrBarefoot
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.
Great info, but what cost? The claimant pays to file. Nobody uses lawyers for small claims. So what cost?
 

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I would also document what other overseedings you did at the same time and get a couple of customers to testify that your overseeding work was successful. It won't help you with this moron, but I suggest you include in your estiamtes/proposals, a notation that says something like : "We are not responsible for seed germination as this is directly related to weather conditions and proper CUSTOMER watering of the repaired area." I make this crystal clear in all overseeding proposals.

If it were me, I would also bring to court, a detailed diary of exactly what you did and when, along with the actual seed and fert products noted. If you walk in prepared, and organized, the judge is more likely to view you as a professional and this guy as the idiot that he is...put yourself in the judges shoes, and then prepare accordingly. Personally I would not "settle" with him. Thats what he wants and I have a big problem with people everywhere bringing half-baked issues into court hoping to intimidate the other party just to get something they are not entitled to. Good luck....and let us know how this turns out...we could all learn something from this.
 

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Originally posted by Mike Bradbury
Great info, but what cost? The claimant pays to file. Nobody uses lawyers for small claims. So what cost?
I can't speak to "ants" specific situation, but I can relate my experience.

A client of mine sued me in small claims alleging that I burned her lawn with fertilizer. My costs "of defense" where:

1. The time I would spend preparing my argument, which I could have worked for profit. (About 8 hours)

2. The cost of consulting my attorney (granted I work with one already but an hour still cost over $100.)

3. Time I spent gathering evidence, and filing motions, like the motion of discovery for her water bills, and her mowing company's bills. I also filed a motion to delay proceedings until my defense was ready. About 3 hours.

4. $30 for a book on the small claims system.

5. And if I was unable to settle, I would have gone to court before my case was scheduled to sit through several cases to see how the judge handled his court room, and to learn how things work there. I don't know how long that would have taken.

Now I realize that some people may thing I went to far, but I didn't want to lose a case and have a judgment against me. I did everything in my power to assure a positive outcome for me. I settled the case to my satisfaction, and strangely enough my client and I still do business.

Now ant may have a different "cost of defense", it would depend on his case and other factors we just don't know. I hope I answered your question.

The point I was driving at is there are costs in defending yourself if you want to do it right. In my opinion, if you can quantify those costs then you have some dollar figure to make it worth your while to settle and stay out of court.
 

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Yes, those are things he said in his first post of the thread.

Good luck Ant! If you follow even just half of these suggestions in the thread, you should have no problem when you get to court, IMO.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
man ...thanks all of you guys for your help....
today i got all the weather data from the past yr.(i control the weather station for noah---glassboro n.j. station)....

1. can i request his weather bill for that time frame?
or does the judge have to ask for them?
i need to get a copy on the dep rule last yr. about watering...we were baned for a wile...
thanks again...
ant
 

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Originally posted by ant

1. can i request his weather bill for that time frame?
or does the judge have to ask for them?
You can do several things, they include asking for them and investigating for them. Here is what I would do...

If you have been served a summons or "court papers" announcing you are being sued, then you have the "Right to disclosure and discovery". What that means is, you can go to the courthouse and "file a motion for discovery" stating that the plaintiff has information that is relevant to your side of the case and you want it forthwith. The discovery process in small claims court does vary from place to place, so I don't know what will happen next, you may see some magistrate or other legal official who will decide if you get a subpoena, or you may be able to get subpoena from a clerk without a hearing. Once armed with a subpoena, you can write a very scary sounding letter to him demanding all his relevant water bills. If he fails to comply with the subpoena, it will, at the very least undermine his case, it may even get him held in contempt.

You may benefit from buying a book about the small claims process, Nolo press has a book from which I have learned a lot. It is titled “Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court” by Attorney Ralph Warner.

I was skimming the pages between my bookshelf and my keyboard, and there is a small section on where you can dispute the suit itself and seek a dismissal, before the case is heard. That sounds like a good idea that I hasn’t come up yet, and may justify the cost of the book itself.

Good Luck and keep us posted on your progress
 

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Even if it starts out in small claims court you should be able to hire an attorney and pay the fees to have it moved to regular court. I have seen this done in the past and usually the person bringing the suit in small claims will just slink away.

Small claims court is good in some aspects as it allows the little guy to get his day in court but sucks in the fact that it allows any jerk to go pay his $25 to get in your face and cost you time if not money.

This isn't something you should ignore, I once got sued when I was much younger and less experienced. I thought I had things settled with the guy before we went to court, he said he would drop the suit, so I went merrily on my way, only to have him show up and get a default judgement because I wasn't there. To this day I won't go into a court room without my attorney, even traffic tickets. And I don't do small claims court.
 

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Today's Date: September 03, 2003
Climatology for FRENCHTOWN, NJ
View this data in Metric | English units. View Records Information. Show HDD.

TODAY'S DATE: 3-SEP-03

SEP-03 FOR PHILADELPHIA/NORTHEAST ARPT, PA (121') LAT=40.8N LON= 75.0W

TEMPERATURE PRECIPITATION
ACTUAL NORMAL
HI LO AVG HI LO AVG DEPT AMNT SNOW SNCVR CDD
1 71 62 67 81 66 73 -6 0.45 0.0 0 2
2 M M M 81 65 73 M M 0.0 0 M
3 M M M 81 65 73 M M 0.0 0 M
4 M M M 80 65 73 M M 0.0 0 M
5 M M M 80 65 72 M M 0.0 0 M
6 M M M 80 64 72 M M 0.0 0 M
7 M M M 79 64 72 M M 0.0 0 M
8 M M M 79 64 71 M M 0.0 0 M
9 M M M 79 63 71 M M 0.0 0 M
10 M M M 79 63 71 M M 0.0 0 M
11 M M M 78 63 70 M M 0.0 0 M
12 M M M 78 62 70 M M 0.0 0 M
13 M M M 78 62 70 M M 0.0 0 M
14 M M M 77 62 70 M M 0.0 0 M
15 M M M 77 61 69 M M 0.0 0 M
16 M M M 77 61 69 M M 0.0 0 M
17 M M M 76 61 69 M M 0.0 0 M
18 M M M 76 60 68 M M 0.0 0 M
19 M M M 76 60 68 M M 0.0 0 M
20 M M M 75 59 67 M M 0.0 0 M
21 M M M 75 59 67 M M 0.0 0 M
22 M M M 75 59 67 M M 0.0 0 M
23 M M M 74 58 66 M M 0.0 0 M
24 M M M 74 58 66 M M 0.0 0 M
25 M M M 74 57 66 M M 0.0 0 M
26 M M M 73 57 65 M M 0.0 0 M
27 M M M 73 57 65 M M 0.0 0 M
28 M M M 72 56 64 M M 0.0 0 M
29 M M M 72 56 64 M M 0.0 0 M
30 M M M 72 55 63 M M 0.0 0 M

TOTALS FOR PNE
HIGHEST TEMPERATURE 71 TOTAL PRECIP 0.45
LOWEST TEMPERATURE 62 TOTAL SNOWFALL 0.0
AVERAGE TEMPERATURE 66.5 NORMAL PRECIP 3.88
DEPARTURE FROM NORM -6.6 % OF NORMAL PRECIP 12
COOLING DEGREE DAYS 2
NORMAL DEGREE DAYS 118
 
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