Contractor / Architect Negligence = Jail Time? In California, Maybe

Recently, in Los Angeles County, criminal court has been pursuing a wealthy homeowner who is also the contractor / architect of his former home. According to an ABC article, a firefighter was killed back in 2011 when responding to a fire in the 12,500 sq ft mansion of Gerhard Becker. The blaze killed veteran firefighter Glenn Allen.

Prosecutors and the LA mayor, are claiming that the gross negligence of the design and construction of a fireplace caused the fire and therefore the death of the Allen. LA police spokes man Charlie Beck stated that this is a very rare circumstance where design and construction can lead to criminal prosecution according to this KSDK.com article.

Criminal negligence and civil negligence are radically different in the penalty associated with the violation. Insurance and money can protect a builder/architect in a civil matter but in a criminal matter, the person responsible can face jail time if found guilty.

Criminal negligence allows for a person to be subject to criminal penalty even if there was no intent for the crime to happen. This is serious, because most crimes require the “intent” mental state. For this to apply to a contractor or architect, there actions would have to fall outside of the normal standard of how other individuals in that field would act. In this case, a contractor / architect would have to abide by building codes.

Criminal negligence is defined as:

Criminal negligence requires more than merely a mistake in judgment, inattention, or simple carelessness. It only pertains to conduct that is so outrageous and reckless that it marks a clear departure from the way an ordinary careful person would act under similar circumstances

As can be seen from the above quotation, there is a very high standard that much be breached in order to find a person guilty and this must be done above a reasonable doubt. The facts have not been established on whether Becker went this far in his design and construction, but there are lessons to be learned her for all contractors, not only those in California… Abide by the rules in all facets of the construction process or face loss of license, monetary damages and worst of all – jail time.

California Contractors Need Workers Compensation Insurance, or else…

One of my favorite places to find good content and expert opinion regarding construction and legal issues is JDSupra.com. This is a service whereby bloggers and others can post content and it is marketed by JDSupra. In one of JD’s tweets last week I discovered a very informative article by Matthew Hicks regarding Workers’ Compensation Insurance law and jurisprudence in California.

Hicks sites two landmark cases, Wright v. Isaak, 149 Cal.App.4th 1116 (2007) and Loranger v. Jones, 184 Cal.App.4th 847 (2010). See Hicks article for the in depth analysis of these cases. The bottom line here is that all California contractors need to be sure to maintain proper and adequate workers compensation insurance.

The main statutory component of Hicks article and the source of Workers Compensation law in California come from California Business and Professions Code §7125.2 which states in pertinent part:

“The failure of a licensee to obtain or maintain workers’ compensation insurance coverage, if required under this chapter, shall result in the automatic suspension of the license by operation of law in accordance with the provisions of this section…”

The key elements here are 1) obtain or maintain, basically saying that the contractor has a duty to get it and then a duty to keep up the correct amount of insurance. The other important element quoted above is 2) the fact that the suspension of the license occurs by “operation of law,” meaning that you do not have to be caught and if/when a contractor is caught without or under insured, the suspension of the license will have automatically happen retroactive to the date of insufficient coverage. Needless to say, this is pretty powerful language.

Just as Hicks points out in his well written-piece, contractors need to abide by and closely adhere to the requirements for Workers Compensation insurance. This can be complicated and contractors should get legal advise when making such decisions.

For further reading see Wesley E. Meyers article here.

Contractor Websites

In the course of staying on the pulse of the construction industry I read numerous articles online, using things like twitter, Google Reader and other forms of social media. Recently, I discovered a website from Darren Slaughter, he designs websites just for contractors! Many contractors have lackluster sites that all but drive away potential clients, and there are still some who do not even have a site. Its rare to come across an individual who designs sites specifically for contractors.

I found Slaughter because he wrote an informative piece on Google+ for contractors and it has good content. Check it out here.

The discovery of Slaughter’s site got me wondering if there were other sites out there specifically tailored for contractors. From a brief google search, I was able to find the following:

The ones named above seem to be very credible and worth looking into if you are a contractor in need of a site. In this day and age, the contractor operating “out the back of his truck” is a thing of the past. Any good contractor and client will need to be fluent and well versed on using computers, the internet and more. There are no more yellow pages, its all your internet presence.

As always, when looking for contractors a website is important but that should not be where the research ends for a consumer. It is always very important to make sure the contractor is licensed. Any body can put up a site. I would advise contractors to put the licensing information in some form on the site so that it can be double checked against the states website. Here in Louisiana contractors and consumers can find licensing information at the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors.

NOLA Contractor’s College

On January 30, the New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu announced plans for what they are calling Contractor’s College. This cutting edge program will aid Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in becoming educated so as to allow them to compete in the market place with other more established construction companies.

Mayor Landrieu is quoted as saying:

“Contractor’s College is another great example of how we can build capacity among local businesses by removing obstacles that have prevented their inclusion in local opportunities in the past,”

“I am confident that this program will put DBE firms on equal footing with other companies as our City continues to recover and rebuild.”

The program is funded by a $1.042 mm grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is another step whereby the Landrieu administration has taken positive action to see to it that our business community is more competitive and fair. The Office of Supplier Diversity will oversee the allocation of the funding and run the Contractor’s College.

Those parties interested in participating in the Contractors College will need to fill out the Contractor Contact Form on the city’s website. From there you will receive further information on the program. Further information can be found at the city’s web-site or nola.com.