On Tuesday, attendees at the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) Summer Conference in Newport, R.I., heard a presentation from Chip Gentry, a founding member of the Call & Gentry Law Group, about the important role of proper installation and good insurance when it comes to avoiding litigation.
“Build it ‘cheaper and faster’ is a core cause of construction defects,” said Gentry. “It means an inferior final project, and it’s a chronic problem.” Some of the biggest risks are lofts and apartment conversions and redevelopments, hotels, condos, centralized owners and high-volume products, he said.
“Bad building or design cases manage to become bad window cases,” said Gentry. “They’ll sue the general contractor, and water in a building is blamed on fenestration no matter where it shows up.”
Construction-defect litigation is time-consuming and draining, both financially and emotionally. And when more parties get involved, it can make it harder to reach a settlement. Often there are fights between insureds and insurers, and it can be difficult to get people on the same page, said Gentry.
Fenestration companies are sued most commonly for things like contract disputes, disgruntled employees, patent litigation – and, more often than not, installation issues.
“Installation mistakes are a big one, and they can be prevented,” said Gentry. “We have to be at least somewhat involved in installation because of this.”
Gentry, offered several of the most common installation mistakes that can lead to litigation. Among them are not sealing house wrap, lack of end dams, flashing or subsills, and poor shimming. Poor caulking is also a common mistake, whether it means not cleaning the substrates thoroughly, not using the proper tools, or not leaving space for caulk to expand or shrink.
Final checks matter, Gentry said.
“Installers are the face of the window industry,” he said. “You have to see, does it open? Does it close? Does it lock? Were specs followed? Get your standards set; be involved in specs. Get boots on the ground, and make sure it’s done right.”
A dollar today can save your company millions tomorrow, he added.
Aside from avoiding installation mistakes, the best thing you can do is have good insurance, said Gentry. He recommended making sure you have enough insurance limits to effectively protect you.
“Be better prepared,” he said. “Be aware of the various clauses you can shop for that provide better and more meaningful protections for your company.”
Knowing your rights is also critical, said Gentry.
“You have a right to add counsel of your choice,” he said. “Find one with fenestration experience and knowledge of your company. Find a reputable broker you can trust, who has experience in window manufacturing, to make sure you have the right insurance.”
To keep costs low, avoid, or at least limit, claims. Manage risk by keeping track of prior claims and erosion of limits. Update a list of claims under each policy. Be prepared for a carrier to sue. Control exposure, and keep a paper trail.
Finally, Gentry advised all to keep their old policies. “Old insurance policies are golden,” he said.