How to avoid construction disputes

Times are tough in the construction industry at the moment. Money is tight, and maximising profit is a priority. Time is at a premium, and as a result it can be tempting to try and simply ‘get on’ with the job without thinking about the ramifications of doing everything at 100mph. One of the things that can often fall by the way side as a result of this is the keeping of records.

But it really isn’t that much of a hassle to keep records. And it can make all the difference in avoiding a dispute. For example, by keeping records pinch points get identified early on and get resolved, and everyone is on the same page when decisions have been made.

Further still, it can make all the difference should you get into a fully contested legal dispute. Remember, judges love records. They’re black and white. They give a contemporaneous view of what happened. And, unlike your memory, they don’t fade over time.

It goes back to that old saying: it’s not what happened that’s important, it’s what you can prove happened. Judges will normally be faced with two conflicting accounts and they need to decide who is in the right. Even if you’re right, if you can’t prove it, a judge is more than likely going to favour the side that has something to back up their claim.

There is no right or wrong way to keep records, or what type of records to keep, but here are a few tips on keeping records to help you protect yourself against potential disputes.

Keep a diary

This doesn’t need to be War and Peace. Just scribble down briefly what happened on each day of the project. A dispute can arise months or even years later, and if you don’t have a day-to-day record, you’ll be relying purely on memory. And let’s face it, can you even remember what you had for tea last Tuesday?

Take pictures

It’s easy to take quick pictures of developments going on at your site. Let’s say you’re not happy with work that’s been carried out by one of your sub-contractors. You won’t pay for the work until it’s remedied. Having a picture to back up your argument that the work hasn’t been properly completed can be much more powerful than relying just on your words. Also, make sure any photos are clearly dated.

Keep records of any variations

Make sure you keep a written record of any instructions given to you and record it so that there can be no argument that you’re entitled to extra money. As with all records, try and have it signed off by all the parties involved, or send an email out as confirmation to all the relevant people. You can even set up address groups in your email accounts to make sure you don’t miss anyone out when you’re sending emails.

Or even employ someone to keep records for you

This can seem expensive at first, but can end up saving you time, money and hassle in the long run.

Let’s put it into perspective. Would you rather spend money on legal costs and lose, say, a £500,000 argument if your dispute went to court because you didn’t have the records to back up your arguments? Or simply employ someone for a fraction of the costs to make and keep daily records that could avoid a dispute in the first place or give you solid evidence should the worst happen?

And if you have no records…

Check. Double-check. Then check again.

I’ve had clients in the past who didn’t think that they had any records. They would delete emails and documents to make sure their computer was tidy. But deleted emails and documents can sometimes be recovered from your Deleted or Bin folder. Clients have also found important documents that they’ve sent to personal or home email accounts, or on their phone. Phone records also act as records of conversations taking place and can help to jog your memory.

As you can see, keeping records can help prevent disputes arising, which can make the difference between a successful project and a bitter dispute. Sometimes, however, disputes are avoidable. But in such circumstances, good records can provide you with the necessary ammunition to be successful in your claim.

Are you already involved in a dispute? Or want to discuss ways in which you can improve your record keeping?

Call our Construction team now on 01482 324252 or email Matthew Fletcher on to see how we can help you.

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