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  • Liability and mouse damage

    We take a lot of care, when building a new home, to make sure there is nowhere for mice to get in. We missed one.

    The last house we built has an attached garage and the concrete floor in the garage slopes to a drain that has an ABS grate covering it. The excavation sub piped the drain underground about 50' to where the pipe daylights over a hill. None of us considered that mice might chew through the ABS grate after traveling through the underground freeway created by the pipe. Or maybe the mice were already in the Subaru that was parked in the garage for the winter, while the clients lived across the country in their other home, and oblivious to the pitter-patter of little feet in their garage afar. However it happened, the vermin had a tunnel to some nice digs in that Subaru, and they spent considerable time stocking it with food stores for the winter. They did a little remodeling too. Having no need for electric devices, they dispatched offending wiring when it got in their way. It was a mess and it smelled bad too.

    Now each of my son's own a Subaru which have never seen the inside of a garage. In fact, most vehicles in this area live outside all winter, living in harmony with rodents of many types and to no ill effect. Why then did this particular Subaru get targeted in his way? Well it did and these clients have made it know that they just paid Subaru about $1500 to fix the damage. They think it appropriate that I pay the bill.

    Yes, I wish the excavation sub had thought to put some hardware cloth over the end of that pipe. He probably thought, as I had, that the ABS grate was secure, but it wasn't.

    What does everyone think about this? I'll probably pay the Subaru bill to keep my clients happy, but there is a part of me that thinks this is a case of "stuff happens" and it's nobody's "fault". The vehicle in the garage was contents of the house. Am I responsible for contents in the house? Was I in any way negligent? The architectural plan showed a floor drain, but nothing more. No dotted line leading to a drywall, or otherwise. The owners knew there was a problem with mice last fall and asked me to investigate. I filled a little crack between the garage door jamb, thinking mice were getting in that way, but none of us figured out the real problem untill the Spring and after the mice had their way all winter.

    Good client relations are important to me, so I'll probably just pay, but what is my liability in this case? Im still within a year of the date of completion.

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts.
    Last edited by Rick@NCC; 04-20-2016, 10:17 AM.

  • #2
    I'll always take a clients concern and look at it through their eyes and try to be honest with myself and view it with an open mind. I'll first ask myself did I make a mistake which is the easiest to answer because we all know if we made a mistake, it's admitting to it and correcting it that many have a hard time with. I make mistakes often, admit to them quickly and correct them even faster.

    Sounds to me you didn't do anything wrong even if you knew there was a mice problem. Who doesn't have a mouse problem?

    Unless you brought in a consultant for preventing vermin from entering the dwelling, wrote up recommendations and owners agreed to those recommendations and you didn't follow them then I would see fault. But you have no control over mice just as you have no control over termites, or a stray dog entering the yard and chewing the garden house.

    Do you pay it in full ? maybe approach them with your view on the manner and offer to split the bill? Look at the big picture and ask yourself how much money did I make from this one client?, will I continue to make more money from this client?, will this client refer others?

    Gary

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    • #3
      Not that I don't feel for your client and agree with your desire for keeping the customer happy ( very honorable in today's world ) but let's hypothetically extend this to the mice chewing through an electrical supply line, shorting it and starting a fire. Would you feel compelled to build a new house to keep them happy?
      "ALS IK KAN" - Stickley

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      • #4
        My thinking is similar to both approaches.

        Does your contract say that you will keep mice out of the house? Does it say you are a mouse specialist? Are you sure that is the only way the mice got in the house? I thought a mouse could squeeze thru something like a 3/8 inch hole or crack and those can be found on older homes at least, maybe not on this house.
        How do you know the mice are only in the car? I have seen pictures of thermal images that show mice tunnels in insulation in walls and have had them in cabinets, behind walls, in attics? What are you going to do with those situations if mice are found elsewhere? I fear admitting that it is your problem may lead to being on the hook for much more to come. Even offering to pay half could be seen as as admission of guilt.

        On the other hand, trying to understand where your customer is coming from and trying to work with him is important. You might want to see if some sort of legal person could figure out a way that you admit nothing but pay for the damages and are no longer obligated to any further damages in the car or the house. Where does it stop is a question that would plague my mind.

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        • #5
          I have seen mice crawl through a missing section of a mortar joint in cmu.
          "ALS IK KAN" - Stickley

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          • #6
            I don't think that you did anything wrong. 1/4" hardware cloth is always best, but an ABS grate isn't exactly like chewing through warm butter either. If you did what you could to begin with, what else do you do? The mice in Northern Maine will actively try to get in any way that they can when winter comes )you can here it) - they are desperate and will try anything - under vinyl siding, up outside corners, into vents for the kitchen stove, etc....even brand new houses have problems. Every winter I find a small mouse house in the air filter housing of our truck and it gets used often!

            Anyway, how would the mouse make it into the car if it was locked up? When they start using keys, its time to move.



            " ... I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock" (Matthew 7:24-25 KJV).

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            • #7
              Fwiw, a couple of weeks ago in new office's of my customer. I crashed a new $300 monitor and this week dropped a $200 ext alcove light while installing. Within 2 hrs I notified the owners that a replacement was on the way.

              I have GL of course (doesn't cover what you're working on) but even on a larger problem I'm prepared to propose a monthly payment schedule for a few months or so is how I would handle it.
              Steve

              "Get three coffins ready" - A Fistful of Dollars 1964

              http://youtu.be/KZ_7br_3y54

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              • #8
                It all depends on the details.

                If the prints didn't show where the drain goes, why didn't you ask the arch for clarification? RFI on file is worth 2 in the bush. Is it even code?

                Here drains are not allowed in garage slabs and even if I got a variance they would never allow me to drain it to daylight.

                If everything was code and to print (big IF), then it becomes a bit fuzzy. I would think it would first be a claim against the Homeowners Insurance and if not maybe against the auto insurance, if either covers it. As it stands per your description, the owner would have to prove his damages were caused by faulty construction. I'd give it a better than 50/50 in court, as the open pipe (presumably 4" pipe) could harbor animals a lot bigger and chewy-er than a mouse.

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                • #9
                  Purely a business decision, $1500 vs keeping the client happy.
                  "First we finish the game, then we’ll deal with the Armada!"

                  Sir Frances Drake

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                  • #10
                    I hope you made some money off from this guy. Sure your daylight drain could have been better, but it was installed the way many in the industry install them around here. Although we also now have restrictions on garage floor drains.

                    And just as important: the reason that insurance companies treat coverage for unoccupied homes differently, is that there is no one home to take reasonable steps to limit damages.

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                    • #11
                      First let me say that I didn't have time to read all that was written in the posts.
                      How can you be sure that is where the mice got into the house. Someone may have left the door open. It may have been delivered with the furniture when they moved in.

                      "Mouses" are so successful because we have never been able to keep them out no matter what we do. That is why the pest control industry exist.

                      If the sub had installed a screen at the outlet and that screen caused trash to clog the drain resulting in water damage, would you / he have been responsible for any water damage?

                      It seem to me that your liability is limited to the amount of goodwill you are prepared to pay for.

                      Give them a puddy cat.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Slaughter Construction Co View Post
                        First let me say that I didn't have time to read all that was written in the posts.
                        How can you be sure that is where the mice got into the house. Someone may have left the door open. It may have been delivered with the furniture when they moved in.

                        "Mouses" are so successful because we have never been able to keep them out no matter what we do. That is why the pest control industry exist.

                        If the sub had installed a screen at the outlet and that screen caused trash to clog the drain resulting in water damage, would you / he have been responsible for any water damage?

                        It seem to me that your liability is limited to the amount of goodwill you are prepared to pay for.

                        Give them a puddy cat.
                        Exactly......and install (1) puddy cat on half rations.


                        " ... I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock" (Matthew 7:24-25 KJV).

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Slaughter Construction Co View Post
                          How can you be sure that is where the mice got into the house.
                          The chewed-through drain grate would be a pretty good hint, or didn't you read that part?

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                          • #14
                            A friend of the family in NC came home from a weekend away to find a deceased deer in the MBdrm having jumped the fence around the pool and gone through a SGD. It never occurred to them to go after the pool fence folk or the door installer. They should have known...
                            Donald on the basis of his net worth valuation-

                            "...feelings, even my own feelings, and that can change rapidly day to day"

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by dgbldr View Post

                              The chewed-through drain grate would be a pretty good hint, or didn't you read that part?
                              I assumed they chewed through the grate to get out of the house and find some water.

                              Originally posted by MarkMc View Post
                              A friend of the family in NC came home from a weekend away to find a deceased deer in the MBdrm having jumped the fence around the pool and gone through a SGD. It never occurred to them to go after the pool fence folk or the door installer. They should have known...
                              Blaming others for your misfortunes is a more of a blue state thing.


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