Lesson 55: Beware of Bad Customers

From the Business of Business section of How You Can Avoid Legal Land Mines by Joseph S. Lyles (2003).

Rick’s Case

Rick, a hard-working client of mine, ran his own small business doing grading, hauling, back-hoe projects and related work. He bid upon and was awarded a job demolishing some old industrial buildings and hauling them off.

One of the people who hired Rick told him he could simply haul the refuse down the road a short distance to a vacant piece of property. Of course, Rick thought that having a close disposal place would save him considerable time and money.

Unfortunately, the owner of the vacant property had never granted permission to Rick or his customer for the disposal of such debris upon his land. Law enforcement and environmental officials were called, and Rick faced criminal prosecution for unlawful dumping. He also faced administrative penalties for improper disposal of asbestos, which was found in the dumped materials.

Unbeknownst to my client, the old building he was demolishing contained friable asbestos, a carcinogenic substance. Hew as ordered to remove the hazardous material immediately from the site and to pay for its proper disposal. Consequently, Rick incurred great expense for the extra time, equipment, and disposal fees the clean-up required.

What had seemed like a legitimate, profitable project to Rick quickly became a huge financial burden. With legal assistance, Rick was able to get the administrative penalty lowered, but his only defense was ignorance. And, as the saying goes, ignorance of the law is not excuse.

Rick believed that the people who hired him know the building contained asbestos, but intentionally failed to disclose it. However, he did not have any proof. As a result, he was never reimbursed for all his added expenses.

Encountering hazardous waste on a job site is one of the risks that should always be covered in a business contract. And, of course, you should insist on full disclosure of hazardous materials whenever you work at a job site, especially one with which you are not completely familiar. Finally, never assume you can dump waste materials on anyone’s property without written permission from the owner.

The Lesson: A reasonable dose of prevention, such as avoiding bad business customers, can avoid a very expensive cure!