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Uncovering How Contractor Liability Claims Work: The Tricks of the Trade (Pt 1)

February 6, 2022

There are six main contractor groups when it comes to Contractor Liability Claims. These are plumbers, electricians, roofers, flooring contractors, insulation contractors, and oil burner technicians. In this blog, we will talk about how each of these contractor groups can be subject to liability claims and the challenges faced while investigating these claims. These challenges could also be faced while investigating other contractor groups, such as roadway construction contractors, among others. Let us dive into the world of Contractor Liability Claims and the challenges it entails.

Investigating Contractor Liability Claims

It is important to understand the concept that “Time is Money”. This rule helps understand that the more time spent in not preserving evidence. Because of this compromised evidence, you may have lower negotiating power when trying to settle a claim.

Evidence is key to investigating claims and without proper documentation of evidence, the claim investigation can be put at risk. You could run the risk of dealing with a poorly investigated claim if:

  • You do not have proper access to the scene of the investigation or if your access is compromised
  • Improper preservation of evidence – this holds true if you’re a first-party adjuster or liability adjuster
  • If you’re called upon after the investigation, you could run the risk of an improper investigation done by others
  • Difficulty in accessing public sector investigation evidence or details
  • Inability to access the individual/contractor who conducted the investigation, to acquire first-hand information
  • Delayed reporting of a claim by the contractor caused a delayed response from a retained expert
  • Unable to retain the right expert for the claim at hand

Case Studies

Electrical Contractors

Electrical contractors can come across safety hazards or improper installations during inspections. They need to inform the building owner of their findings. The Electrical Safety Authority in Ontario should be notified, lest there be a fire in the future, which was caused due to this negligence.

Example 1

(underground parking garage)

This case covers the fire explosion, which occurred within the garage, resulting in the destruction of the main building electrical room. The investigation revealed that the cause of the explosion was the electrical failure of wiring providing electricity to the entire building. Apart from the damage caused, it also led to tenants being driven out of their apartments for several weeks while repairs took place. This could lead to business interruption claims or even class action claims from tenants with no insurance coverage.

Example 2

This image depicts the concrete missing due to the electrical explosion. As the fire was caused due to an electrical failure, the contractor who had installed the wire in the first place was put on notice early in the investigation.

The investigation also revealed areas of the wiring where the insulation was damaged by a drill bit, which was dangerously close to a bare and live conductor. The parking garage was experiencing leaks from the concrete ceiling and in order to solve the issue, another contractor was hired months ago who drilled the into the concrete and injected it with sealant. This incident was not the result of the electrical contractor who was conducting further work once the building was constructed.

Example 3

This image depicts heating mats that are installed on a bathroom floor before the tiles are installed for the in-floor heating system.

The label on the mat indicates that it requires the power supply to be 120 Volt AC but during the investigation, it was revealed that the actual power supply to the mat was 240 Volt AC which was double the amount required by the manufacturer.

The electrical contractor had incorrectly connected a 240 Volt AC power supply to the in-floor heat pad causing the floor to overheat quickly. An older gentleman with mobility issues was using the washroom and he switched on the in-floor heating and went for a shower. It is assumed he slipped and fell on the floor as he exited the shower and could not get up. He sustained third-degree burns and sadly succumbed to his injuries. This was a basic mix-up by an electrician causing a fatality that could have been avoided.

Roofing Contractors

Example 1

Roofing contractors at times engage in hot work (open flame) which can lead to fires. Roofers’ torches are used in the process of laying layers of modified asphalt rolls. The heat from the torches seals the various layers to each other, or layers of modified asphalt roll to one another. The image on the right depicts a roofer trying to apply a membrane to the curb on a roof. The curbs are typically made of wood framing on the inside, which is combustible, making this a hazardous task.

Example 2

The mop used by roofers is used to apply tar to the roof and if not stored properly, they could be prone to a fire hazard due to spontaneous heating. Mops should be properly stored in a tar pot overnight which is the safe way to do it. If the mop is left on the roof without proper storage, due to weather conditions, wind, etc., the mop could undergo spontaneous heating and ignite, resulting in a fire on the roof.

Flooring Contractors

Flooring contractors can also be blamed for causing fires. This could be due to insufficient ventilation or spontaneous ignition of rags.

When flooring contractors finish installing a hardwood floor, they apply stains to the finished product. A rag is used to apply the stain or remove excess stain from the floor. The rag could be prone to a chemical exothermic reaction called spontaneous heating. Linseed oil is one such example that can undergo spontaneous heating if the rags are not properly disposed of, post-staining, causing a fire to occur. The rags should be disposed of in a water-filled metal container. These instructions must be followed to avoid fires and combustions.

Flooring contractors can also face the issue of inadequate ventilation. In some cases, a polyurethane finish is applied to the floor that can lead to a substantial generation of vapors as the finish dries and cures. If there is inadequate ventilation, these vapors can accumulate at the floor level, because the vapors are heavier than air. If the contractor does not open the window during the process, the floor could be prone to the accumulation of these vapors. An ignition source such as flames from a furnace or water heater could cause a fire to start by igniting the vapors close to the floor. These flash fires can cause not just property damage but also personal injury or even death in certain cases.

Insulation Contractors

Insulation contractors apply rigid foam insulation to wall cavities. During the curing of spray-on insulation, heat is given off, if it’s not allowed to dissipate, which could result in a fire. The spray should not be more than ½ – 2 inches in thickness or it could become a fire hazard. A thin layer of foam should be applied with each layer given ample time to cure and cool down.

Insulation contractors also work in the attic to blow in cellulose insulation and adequate lighting is required. With the attic being dark, it is imperative that the right lighting be used or it could result in a fire hazard. It could come in contact with the insulation or other combustible parts such as the structural parts of the attic. A contractor could leave the trouble light (incandescent light bulb or halogen light fixture) unattended which could cause a fire if it comes in contact with combustibles.

Additionally, working in poor lighting conditions could result in stepping on wires causing damage to the wiring. Contractors who smoke in the attic could also cause a fire. Insulation contractors need to be cautious of all these factors.

Plumber Contractors

Plumber contractors could cause water or fire damage in the following ways:

  • Use of open flame during soldering
  • Soldering failure
  • Improvisations due to lack of right tools
  • Rushed job
  • Misfit components that come from Asia or Europe
  • Negligence
  • Re-used components
  • Overtightening
Example 1

(plumber using an open flame that could cause a fire)

Example 2

This is an example of using misfit components. The plug is made of an improper material which has caused it to corrode. This loss occurred in a hospital, causing a loss of $300,000 in damage to an operating room.

Example 3

This is an example of improvisation. The building suffered severe flood damage because the roof drain pipe was not properly supported and, under the weight of the water, the pipe separated, causing flooding to occur.

Example 4

Commercial buildings are provided with wet or dry sprinkler systems and if those systems are not properly maintained and inspected regularly, a disaster could happen. Wet sprinkler systems are filled with water 24/7 and need to be flushed at least once a year to eliminate the bacteria that thrive in stagnant water. If this bacteria is not removed, it can cause corrosion as seen in the image on the right.  This led to wall perforation and flooding.

Example 5

This is an example of an incident where the contractor did not solder the pipe together due to a rushed job. This caused significant damage to the house.

Example 6

In this example, it is not the plumber contractor who is at fault but the contractor who installed the flooring. The plumber installed plastic pipes but the contractor installed a concrete floor without protecting the pipes. The cement started to harden, it shrank and caused the pipe to fail.

These are a few examples that portray the different kinds of liability claims Origin and Cause deal with due to various reasons, be it negligence, improvisation, or use of improper materials.

Installers and Fuel Oil Suppliers

A lot of homes in Ontario and Eastern Canada still use oil for heating. There have been several instances where oil spillage has caused significant damage to both property and the environment. Oil spillage claims are expensive and can occur if fuel oil suppliers or installers:

  • Do not follow recommendations
  • Do not follow applicable codes
  • Do not train the driver who delivers the fuel – proper visual examination must be conducted but if the drivers are not trained, they could fail to do so
  • Do not train the user in the safe use and handling of fuel
  • Negligence
Example 1

Oil tanks are provided with oil filters. Oil filters are installed not just to collect particles but to retain water and make sure the burning equipment works well. The filters should be replaced annually usually before the onset of the cold season. In our example, when the contractor replaced the filter, he cross-threaded the connection, and a significant amount of oil leaked under the house which had to be demolished.

Example 2

In this example, the oil tank is placed outside the commercial building with vehicular movement around it. The code requires the oil tank to be protected from falling ice and vehicular movement. During the cold season, while the company was clearing out the snow with a snowblower, they pushed the ice against the tank and in the process damaged the shut-off valve which allowed a significant amount of oil to discharge.

Example 3

Oil tanks are installed under strict guidelines and regulations. The image depicts the tank sitting on an improper foundation causing it to topple over as seen in the image on the right.

Example 4

Example 5

This oil tank was installed on top of patio stones. Over time due to the water dripping from the roof, the soil settled and ended up resting on the shuttle valve causing it to rupture.

This is an example of an oil filter that froze. It is not the oil but the water that froze. Oil filters are to be replaced annually before the onset of the cold season. If the water stays inside the canister, it will freeze and expand upon freezing, causing the canister to fail. This example shows a significant chunk of ice frozen on the lid.

Example 6

This failure was caused because the homeowners hired landscaping contractors who simply lifted the tank by the fuel line to lay down patio stones. This caused the oil tank to fail and led to 900 liters of oil discharge to the ground leading to a claim of about $800,000.

Origin and Cause – Experts at Solving Contractor Claims

At Origin and Cause, our experts and investigators have tremendous in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience at solving various contractor claims, be it roofing contractors, plumbers, or fuel oil suppliers. We investigate thoroughly before making our conclusions. We provide factual evidence to support our theory and claims. Contact Origin and Cause at 1-888-624-3473 today if you wish to file a contractor claim.