John R. Hall

Do you think the fine print on your purchase agreement is enough to protect you from an angry customer? What about your employee who agreed to stay employed and then left abruptly, negating an agreement both sides signed to pay back educational expenses in the event of a voluntary resignation? And how do you go about putting a lien on a customer’s property for failure to make payment on services you provided?

Have you been faced with these questions - or worse - been a part of these scenarios? If so, or if you are just curious about how to protect yourself and your business, you’ll be happy to know The NEWSis bringing back an old feature, starting in this issue. “Ask the Lawyer” has returned from its two-year hiatus (see the feature article “Ask the Lawyer: The Fine Print Matters, Too” in this issue) and we hope that you can get some of your questions answered in this semi-regular feature. This won’t be free legal advice - only an opinion by an experienced attorney who knows a lot about construction law.

HIS NAME IS CARL RIZZO

The person who has agreed to help with your questions in this feature is Carl A. Rizzo, a partner in the Litigation and Construction Service Departments of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, P.A., one of the largest law firms in New Jersey. Rizzo graduated with distinction from George Washington University in 1984, and obtained his law degree in 1987 from the George Washington University National Law Center.

He has over 20 years of professional experience covering a broad and diverse range of practice areas including concentrations in commercial litigation matters and chancery practice relating to contractual disputes involving such matters as surety, construction and construction liens, real estate transactions, commercial tenancy, employment covenants, and partnership/shareholder discord.

He also concentrates in land use and zoning matters, including both the prosecution of and objection to development applications as well as an extensive appellate practice relating thereto. Rizzo also has a wide-reaching base of other litigation experience ranging from administrative appeals, defending clients in relation to agency notices of violations, applications for advantaged business designations, to tax court real property valuation proceedings, as well as matters relating to attorney ethics and disciplinary proceeding.

WHY HIS ANSWERS MATTER

It is no secret that we live in a highly litigious society today. A person can sue another one for merely looking at them cross-eyed or walking on the grass in front of their home. The newspapers are full of stories about frivolous lawsuits, including my favorite: the ones where criminals sue their victims for injuries sustained while they were in the act of committing the crime. Remember the recent lawsuit where a customer of a dry cleaners sued the business $54 million for losing his pants? Luckily he lost, but the owners of the dry cleaners had to close that store because of the legal costs of defending themselves.

I have not heard of anyone in the HVAC business being sued $54 million for a misplaced condensing unit, poorly installed ductwork, or a furnace whose pilot light keeps going out. But don’t be surprised if one of your unhappy customers comes up with a creative way to take you to court.

We all know that an unhappy customer can spread poor word-of-mouth advertising and hurt your ability to recruit new customers. But that same customer can also do much more damage than that - he or she can cost you your business and the livelihood of many employees. I’m not saying that “Ask the Lawyer” will prevent something like this from happening - but a smart business owner needs all of the education he or she can get when it comes to legal matters. In this case, what you don’t know can certainly hurt you.

If you have a question for Carl Rizzo, drop me an e-mail at johnhall@achrnews.com, and I will judiciously do my best to get an answer for you.

Publication date:10/22/2007