A Journey to Nowhere: Navigating the Fenestration Litigation Forest

By Charles A. “Chip” Gentry

Far too often, decision makers and owners of glass companies get lost in what I collectively refer to as the fenestration litigation forest. A letter in the mail or call from a registered agent reveals that the company has just been served papers in a lawsuit, and surely document intensive and expensive expert-driven litigation will soon follow. The attorney receives notice the next morning, and a six-figure defense is on the horizon. The company is about to enter the fenestration litigation forest.

Working Together

While it’s true that some glass cases require costly expert testimony, inconvenient document retention protocol, and time-consuming schematic analysis, it’s important to remember that people and relationships are the driving force behind each and every case. Sometimes, the relationship has soured and unhappy project owners or installation technicians utilize fine print and unrealistic demands to draw hard lines in the sand too early in the process. Three-plus years, seven expert depositions and 11 contested evidentiary hearings later, both parties are finally prepared for trial after spending a combined half-million dollars “building the case.” The fenestration litigation forest has claimed two more victims.

While being sued is never pleasant, the best way to get out of the forest is to never enter it in the first place. Practical solutions, a clear understanding of what all parties’ end goals are, and an early risk-reward analysis can save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of headaches. More often than not, the general contractor wants nothing more than to get back on schedule as quickly as possible in hopes of delivering a completed project to an owner who simply wants to open his or her new condominium or commercial real estate project on time. Meanwhile, the manufacturer wants to deliver a quality product to ensure future and repeat business. A trek into the forest will hinder and often entirely prevent any of these goals from being accomplished.

Most of my fenestration defense work begins with a friendly call to opposing
counsel to take their client’s temperature.

“What is your client most upset about? Is that my client’s fault? Together, how can we fix it?” Candid communication and realistic expectations are the backbone to cultivating a win-win relationship and staying out of the never-ending forest. Frustrated and understandably angry clients often want me to rush out and assume the role of bad cop. While at times, I admit, I relish being the “dog let off the chain,” I have found through my 20-plus years in the industry that being the good cop produces far greater (and quicker, and cheaper) solutions.

Out of the Woods

Glass industry professionals are dignified individuals who take pride in the
products they manufacture, sell and install. Nevertheless, accidents happen, unexpected circumstances arise, and communication often breaks down at a critical juncture of the process. An early mediation or pre-suit risk-reward analysis is often the best way to put a disagreement or error behind both parties, helping everyone get back on schedule. The 30,000-foot view provides a much clearer lay of the land compared to getting lost in the trees. The next time your company is served with papers, remain calm, take a deep breathe and contact a proven attorney in your industry capable of guiding your company through the woods, or better yet, finding an alternative path that ultimately gets your company to the practical solution destination sooner rather than later.

Charles A. “Chip” Gentry is a founding member of Call & Gentry Law Group in Jefferson City, Mo. He can be reached at chip@callgentry.com

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