Volume 7, Issue 4, July-August 2003
Michael Levy, Esq.
Why Nice Guys Shouldn’t Finish Fast
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series (see
Window Film, May-June 2003, page 16).
Joe didn’t have to get up early the next morning—because he didn’t sleep at all the night before. He was already up when the sun rose. He was in a total quandary.
Citing a federal law allowing all contracts signed in the home to be rescinded without penalty within three days, his customers had decided against going forward with a massive film job on their home . The only problem was, Joe’s business had been slow and he’d already finished the job within those same three days.
As he’d threatened, he had stopped at his lawyer’s office on the way home.
“Joe,” said his attorney Bill Bytheminute, “you’ve got a real problem. The Federal Trade Commission has a ‘Cooling Off Rule’ in place. It says that customers have until midnight of the third business day after a contract was signed to cancel if it was made with a company selling door-to-door or if the contract was made anywhere besides the seller’s usual place of business. And they signed this at their home, right?”
Joe shook his head up and down slowly.
“Well, I guess we could try and sue them for fraud, but it will take awhile, and I’m not sure we’d win,” said Bill, “and, of course, you would have my costs as well. You’ll have to decide if it’s worthwhile to pursue.”
“Let me think about it,” Joe replied, not knowing what to do. “But in the meantime, I want to know what I can do to protect myself in the future.”
“Don’t do any jobs before the three days are up,” the attorney replied.
“Yes, but sometimes I’m slow, like in this case. Could I just have the customers sign something saying their waiving that three-day right?”
“Well, sure you coooo ... ould,” Bill stammered, “but I’m not sure it would hold up. Besides, those things are like ‘Swim at Your Own Risk’ signs. It’s good that they are on the pool, but if a swimmer gets hurt he’ll probably sue anyway.”
“He can still sue?” asked Joe.
Bill just chuckled.
“Joe, anybody can sue anyone at any time for anything. Doesn’t even matter if it has merit or not. It’s the great American way,” he said.
Joe saw that though he was spending a lot of time with him, he wasn’t getting very far with Bytheminute. He tried a different approach. “OK, counselor, what would you have done if you were me?”
Bytheminute took a deep breath.
“Well, if I were you and I didn’t want to wait the three days, I would have called the customer and told them that you had good news, that you could start tomorrow. Then I would have told them that you needed them to come into your office and sign some papers if they wanted you to. Heck, you could tell them why and have them sign the contract again at your office.”
“Well, that would be a real pain to the customer, and besides, somebody might cancel,” said Joe.
“Valid points,” answered the attorney, “but unless you do something similar you won’t want to work in that three-day time period. The other thing I’d do is have your applicators get a signature of satisfactory completion when they are done with the job.
“OK, thanks,” said Joe, “I’ll take a look at all my forms, too, and check the language in them.”
“You know, it’s not a bad idea to have me look at them once a year either. So what are you going to do about these customers?”
“I think I have a plan now,” Joe said, leaving the office as fast as he could.
[ ] [ ] [ ]
Now, Joe may not be a real person but his situation is. During the past six weeks, I’ve heard from a number of readers, some asking me what Joe did, others with suggestions for what Joe should do. After considering them all, we offer the following hypothetical ending to our story:
It was overcast the following morning when Joe and his entire work force of applicators showed up at the customers’ home at 7:30. The sounds of four vans in front of their house must have woken the homeowners, because they soon appeared on the front lawn in their matching crimson robes and slippers.
“Hey, what are you doing?” said the hubby, “You finished this job the other day! Joe, I told you we were cancelling the contract. We don’t want any more work from you.”
Joe just smiled.
“Oh, I’m not here to apply any more film,” he said, “I just came to remove what we’ve already put up.”
“But ... you finished the job,” said the husband, turning redder than his ruby slippers. “It’s done.”
“No,” said Joe. “You cancelled. You said there is no contract. I have no right to get paid and you have no right to this film job. We are going to remove it. Men, get to it.”
“Whoa,” said the homeowner. “Let’s have a talk.”
The hubby never did find out if you really can uninstall film, because after their talk, Joe emerged with a check for the job—less ten percent for the “misunderstanding.” A small price to pay for finishing fast.
Michael E. Levy is the president of the Law Offices of Michael E. Levy, a law firm in Stafford, Va. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University and has been a practicing attorney with a strong knowledge of the film and glass industries for 20 years.
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