What any door service provider can do to proactively protect their business.
As one of the most frequently hired automatic door injury experts in the country, I am routinely hired by plaintiffs and defense attorneys. I am known as one of the most impartial experts in this field and have been asked by numerous service providers and manufacturers to assist in their defense. I have a unique perspective having been involved in door and hardware sales, service and installation as a working contractor for over twenty five years. Many independent door service providers have used my services as automatic door experts to help defend claims made against them. When they have been named as co-defendants or against defendants, I have been instrumental in getting them released from the claim.
Many attorneys choose to directly sue each individual entity they can identify in the chain of commerce, or sue only the primary party that owned or managed the location where the injury occurred. In the latter case, the lead defendant is expected to make claims against all parties who have ever worked on the doors, expecting that subparty to provide additional contractually required damages, or at least partial participation in defense and possible contributions to the agreement.
When I was hired by the plaintiff, I participated in the evaluation and determination of the responsible parties who are directly sued. After discovery and documentation disclosures, it is often apparent that many service providers are often not involved in the claim, but are named independently. I have often informed the plaintiff’s attorney that the fault was directly attributable to store ownership and management for not having competent service providers, comprehensive daily safety inspections, or having programs and policies to train employees to understand the internal responsibilities that come. with any automatic door system. In many cases, there are numerous service providers that have been used for a single door and it is difficult to prove which company created the problem. Typically, there are inadequate records and documentation identifying what services were provided and by which service company. Other claims from large chain stores have named the main service provider, regional affiliates (sometimes 3 or more), and a variety of uninvolved vendors who may have manufactured components or performed the original installation. This is done in an attempt to include these entities in the potential deal.
Each case is unique and has many variable factors. In many cases, the management of the stores where the injury occurred held that the service providers they turn to as needed are liable for the claim, even though those providers have not been in their store for 6 months or more. On the contrary, there are cases where a service technician was in the store only a few hours before the injury. In that circumstance, it is hard to believe that the service provider is not at fault for the accident.
Generally speaking, most cases eventually show that the store owner has not understood the responsibility of conducting daily security inspections of automatic door systems. Many service providers have some liability for claims for injuries due to poor business practices that may have been inadvertent or that they are entirely at fault due to the lack of proper technical training of their staff members. Manufacturers of door systems generally bear little or no responsibility for product defects or hidden problems, yet they are included in most lawsuits. When special job requirements call for installation equipment provided by general contractors or construction management, with no experience in automatic door systems, and without proper training, they often fail to properly assemble and configure door systems per manufacturer’s instructions. .
Limit your exposure:
- The first step in demonstrating that your business practices are sound is keeping complete and thorough records of all work performed for each client. Make sure all services provided are well documented. Provide accurate descriptions of the door systems at each location when there are multiple automatic door systems. Number each individual entry in a way that establishes an indisputable location for all services provided. For example, in a store where there are two exterior entry doors (north and south) and two interior entry doors (north and south), it is important to label and maintain individual service records for each door unit on a consistent basis. Train your technicians to use a standardized method of naming all doors, so that you can demonstrate that an injury that occurred at the interior entrance (north, for example) was not the same door that was recently checked at the exterior entrance ( south) where recent work was provided by your company. Currency a number, letter or barcode system that will test which door bill connects to which door service call, at all times. Label doors and frames to ensure positive identification.
- Communicate with a single point of contact when you’re working anywhere. After placing the service call, be sure to inform the person requesting the service in writing of the condition encountered upon arrival. Detail what service was needed, what service was provided, and what conditions relate to the maintenance of the entrance. Make sure all your correspondence is in writing to provide a solid record of all work contracted with your company. Make sure all your invoices, estimates and proposals mention the importance and non-delegable responsibility of the owner to perform daily safety inspections for all automatic door systems. Clearly indicate where and how store owners and managers can obtain information on how to properly conduct daily security checks. If this training service is available in your company, please refer to the fact that your company can provide professional training and instruction on how to check the security of all automatic door systems for the management and store personnel. Inform store management that periodic maintenance and annual inspections are important to ensure the safety of store customers. But daily inspections are your main obligation. The old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is something to keep in mind. Make sure your company does everything possible to get your clients to “absorb” your professional knowledge. If the customer decides not to accept your offer, that customer is going to have a hard time blaming your company when something goes wrong with their door systems.
- Door deficiencies and door compliance issues should be put in writing. If a system is found to be unrepairable or requires costly upgrades to make the input compliant, be sure to fully explain the non-compliance issues in writing. Mark the door “unsafe” and photograph its tag. Many service providers have been released from a “Summary Judgment” case by showing that the door systems that caused the claim injury needed to be removed from service and replaced entirely. The store owner or management refused to take the service provider’s advice. The service provider, who had a fully documented letter and photos showing all the deficiencies and the need to replace the door, was able to successfully dispute the claims made by the main defendant. The door service provider proved that the store was the negligent party and refused to heed the warnings given to make the door meet the requirements.
- Have your technicians photograph your work routinely. Photographic documentation can also prove invaluable when making a claim for poor workmanship and negligence against a service provider. Displaying the status of the input on arrival and departure your technician can often test the repairs and upgrades made during the service call. In a recent case, photos showing the location of a new sensor above the door showed that the location was adequate. The sensor had been relocated by someone else after the original installation, resulting in an inadequate coverage field. Plaintiff was seriously injured and resulted in a major wrongful death lawsuit. The service provider was released from the case and in fact filed a lawsuit against the main defendant.
- Hopefully, it goes without saying that all of your employees and technicians should be as competent as you think. It is not uncommon to hear that many service providers train their technicians by having new men travel alongside a more experienced technician for a couple of months. The old philosophy of “Observe one, make one, teach one” just isn’t enough these days. Make sure all of your service providers are well trained and competent in the work they do. I have witnessed many statements in which some disgruntled employees, who no longer work for a door service provider, tried to get revenge and blame their poor workmanship on the training practices of their former employers. Even if this is not the case, you really don’t need the negative press.
One last observation:
There are several well-known “so-called” automatic door experts who appear to lack commercial experience or practical knowledge of the field. I have repeatedly seen a couple of these men adapt their analysis of a case to attack any entity that fits the needs of the attorney who hired them. First, their evaluations point the finger at a store, and then when the store manages to get out of the case, the modified opinion of these experts points to the manufacturer of the door system, service providers, or sometimes suppliers. of components. If you are in a legal situation, hopefully you have followed the direction in this article and have a substantial paper trail to demonstrate your professionalism.