St. George, UT asked in Business Law and Construction Law for Utah

Q: My previous client is trying to bill me for a valve he purchased. What legal standing does this have?

I have a very small tile installation business. I am both licensed and insured. I recently completed a shower for a client who claims I cut a hole on a tile "too large" and that the valve wouldn't fit. I cut the hole to a standard valve size which also matched the one below it. He hadn't provided me with the valve he planned to use. He now claims he had to go hire a plumber to try to fix it and ended up having to buy a new one. He is now billing me (a simple email he replied to my initial estimate) for the cost of the valve, the trip cost, and the cost for the plumber- no receipts or proof. What legal standing does he have? I offered to fix it prior to him "billing" which he declined. He hadn't even tried contacting me before purchasing the new valve.

1 Lawyer Answer
Wesley Winsor
Wesley Winsor
  • Saint George, UT
  • Licensed in Utah

A: Hello,

You probably have nothing to worry about. The home-owner is likely trying to see if you will pay something. Until he gets an attorney involved, I wouldn't get too worked up abou it. Here is an anlaysis of it though:

In general, the legal standing of a client's claim against a contractor for work performed would depend on the terms of the contract (if one exists), the nature of the alleged damage or error, and the reasonableness of the actions taken by both parties.

Here are some key points to consider:

1. **Contract Terms**: If you have a written contract with the client, it should outline the scope of work, what is expected from both parties, and how disputes are to be resolved. If the hole size for the valve was specified in the contract, and you adhered to those specifications, this could be a strong defense.

2. **Standard Practices**: If you cut the hole to a standard valve size, and this is a recognized practice in the industry, you may argue that you performed the work to industry standards.

3. **Communication and Opportunity to Remedy**: You mentioned that you offered to fix the issue before the client went ahead and hired a plumber and purchased a new valve. The fact that the client did not give you the opportunity to address the issue could work in your favor. It is typically expected that the original contractor be given the chance to rectify any mistakes before additional costs are incurred.

4. **Proof of Damages**: The client would generally need to provide proof of damages, such as receipts or invoices for the additional work and materials. Without such proof, it may be difficult for the client to substantiate the claim for reimbursement.

5. **Mitigation of Damages**: The law typically requires that the injured party take reasonable steps to mitigate (minimize) their damages. If the client acted unreasonably by not allowing you to fix the issue or by incurring unnecessary expenses, this could reduce or eliminate their claim.

6. **Negligence**: If the client is claiming that you were negligent in your work, they would typically need to prove that you failed to exercise reasonable care and that this failure directly caused their damages.

Given these points, the client may have limited legal standing if they cannot provide proof of damages, did not allow you the opportunity to correct the issue, and if their actions were not reasonable under the circumstances. However, it is important to handle the situation professionally and attempt to resolve the dispute amicably if possible.

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