Roofing Contractor General Liability and Insurance Lawsuits in Wisconsin
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If you're a roofer with a business in Wisconsin, or working on roofs in Wisconsin, it doesn't take long to figure out you better have coverage if you want to stay in business for the long-haul. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time before something happens. Unless of course you're perfect, and I haven't met anyone perfect (other than my wife and she's not a roofer) you want to protect not only your roofing business with general liability coverage, albeit responsible roofers want to make sure if they do make a mistake or cause an accident, their clients aren't left twisting in the wind neither.
When looking for roofing contractor lawsuits, I was quickly able to find many cases in Wisconsin. I narrowed my search from the 1980s and newer because they're more likely to have relavance to today's roofing business. The point of the post is to be able to show roofing clients and prospects that the fear of a lawsuit is not only real, but maybe more likely than many think.
The sad thing is, a roofer can do everything right, and not even have an accident and still get sued.
Nuisance suit – is the most frustrating for roofing contractors, or for that matter, any contractor or business person because without insurance defending you, you're stuck paying for legal fees when you and they (the plaintiff) knows you haven't done anything wrong. The bottom line with nuisance suits is that it's naive to go through life thinking no one will take advantage of you if given a chance. It's not right of course, but it is reality.
I'm not suggesting the following are nuisance suits, far from it, as nuisance suits generally get settled before going to court because the plaintiff is looking for a quick and easy payoff, that's why they're nuisance suits. The following just happened to catch my eye for one reason or another and are based as much as the order I found them as they are for any other reason (when you have hundreds of cases, there isn't much reason to read them all).
Peplinski v. Fobe's Roofing 1995. This Portage County Wisconsin case with CNA Insurance made it to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin and is a "res ipsa loquitur" issue. Res ipsa loquitur is latin for ~"the thing speaks for itself" with a loose meaning that based on the accident, it's presumed negligence is involved. It's a case where a plumbing contractor and/or plumbing worker was injured on a construction project. As I mention in my roofer general liability insurance article, it's not the home's value that is the biggest worry for most insurance carriers, its the human bodily injury risk that keeps them up at night. Peplinksi didn't get what he wanted, and the evidence was circumstantial, but the main take-away is that the cost to defend a case all the way to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is measured in tens of thousands of dollars, and that's if you win.
General Casualty v. American Family Mutual Insurance Group, 1998 – General contractor hired a roofing contractor in Kenosha County Wisconsin. The roofing contractor hired his brother (we've all heard this one before), and the brother caused a fire at the restaurant. The question of the day is who pays, the general contractor or the roofing contractor's insurance? It appears to me that the general rule is that the liability of an independent contractor may NOT be imputed to a general contractor. however, an exception to this rule exists (there's almost ALWAYS exceptions, and usually exceptions to the exceptions, so you ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS need a lawyer if you want to know where you stand legally). The exception to this rule exists when a written construction contract with the owner obligates the general contractor to provide all labor and material necessary to complete the project. The three conditions that apparently must exist before the exception permitting general contractor liability will apply are 1. The agreement must be in writing, 2. The agreement must be between the owner and the contractor, and 3. The contract must obligate the contractor to provide all of the materials and to do all the work necessary to complete the project.
For me, what that means is I want any general contractor to structure a contract so I have everyone on the hook if things go bad. For a roofing contractor, especially one using his brother to do the work, not having insurance could spell the end of the roofing contractor business, at least in that area.
Durfee Bros., Inc. v. Certified Parts Corp., 1987 – A roofing contractor in Rock County Wisconsin was contracted to fix a roof on a office building. The office building's owner sued the roofing contractor for inadequate work because the office owner said the roof leaked. This case made it to the appellate level so it wasn't cheap to defend for the roofing contractor or the roofer's insurance company, as the case may be. In a nutshell, the roofer was contracted to fix leaks, the roofing contractor worked on part of the roof, but when finished, the roof still leaked. It appears the office owner couldn't prove the leaks came from where the contractor worked on the roof, so the roofing contractor won. It brings up a good point about taking on work that may prove to be problematic. If a roofer is asked for a bid from someone who appears to be really cheap, and so much so that they may be penny-wise and pound foolish, it may be best to walk away and not take the work.
There's plenty more roofing related court cases in Wisconsin and I'll add to this list as time permits. And of course tons more of court cases with roofing contractors as you expand into Minnesota and the rest of the country.