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Planning A Renovation? 4 Easy Steps You Must Take To Protect Yourself

As the weather gets nice, and Spring Fever takes hold, many homeowners turn their attention to fixing up their homes. Some folks focus on roofs, others focus on repainting their homes and yet others dream bigger - maybe a new bathroom, kitchen or a brand new extension.
Of course, with these big plans comes the stress of coming up with the money to pay for the work. On a related note, maybe not as stressful as the financial part, is the concern about lawsuits. What if a contractor at your home gets hurt? Will you get sued? Are there steps you can take to protect yourself?
As a personal injury, I am often asked this question. Friends, family members and clients always want to know whether they can be sued and relatedly what steps should they take to protect themselves. With regard to the first question, whether they can be sued, the answer is yes, but the real question one should be asking is whether the lawsuit will prevail. And, because anyone can sue, there should be certain steps one should take if a home renovation is in the future.
To protect against lawsuits, such as those brought by a worker injured at your home, you need a two-step strategy. First, you need to make sure you have insurance in place. Second, you need to make sure you hire a reputable contractor and that safety is the number one priority at your renovation project. Just follow the four steps below and you should do well.
Step 1 - The first step to take is to hire a reputable contractor. You want to hire a contractor that has been around for a while. Hopefully, you know somebody that has dealt with the contractor before. The contractor should be licensed with the local municipality. I also like to see that the contractor has a truck with a logo, a website and a home office with a secretary that answers the phone. To me, that is a sign of a thriving business, which is another sign that the contractor is reputable. Hiring a reputable contractor increases the likelihood that the contractor knows what he or she is doing and will make safety a major priority at your renovation project.
Step 2 - The contractor must be bonded and, for our purposes, insured. Bonded merely means that if you pay the contractor and, for whatever reason, the work is not finished, the bonding company will step in the shoes of the contractor and finish the work.
Insurance is more complicated. The contractor must be insured in case his work causes you or somebody else injury or if he damages your home or somebody else's property. You should ask the contractor for proof that he has insurance.
More importantly, you must ask the contractor to purchase insurance for you in case the contractor's work causes somebody else injury (property or personal). For example, if the contractor breaks a gas line and your house explodes and injures your neighbor's dog, your neighbor will sue you and the contractor. Maybe one of the contractor's employees falls over a hose on your driveway and sues you. If you are actually sued, the insurance that the contractor purchased for you will step in to protect you. Generally, to get this type of insurance, you need to ask your contractor to make you an "additional insured" under his liability policy. Before the work starts, ask for proof that you are named as "additional insured" under the policy. The proof should look like the insurance card you get from your car insurance policy. Save that information somewhere safe.
You may also check with your own home insurance provider. Call your broker, agent or whoever is your contact and ask whether you are covered if somebody is hurt during a home renovation. Don't be afraid to be pushy. Ask what the coverage amount is. Ask exactly what provision gives you the protection. If your policy excludes home renovation work, ask if the company will provide it for you. If not, consider switching companies to a carrier that will give you protection.
Step 3 -- Safety Plan. Before all large construction projects, the owners, contractors and safety consultants get together as a safety committee and plan out how the project is going to move forward and they try to anticipate any safety hazards that may occur. Once the safety hazards are identified, the committee comes up with ideas to plan for these hazards and to take steps to ameliorate them. For instance, if the plan is to build a 20-story building, the members of the safety committee will make plans to ensure that all workers have appropriate height related safety devices such as scaffolds, and harnesses. The committee will also ensure that all workers are trained on topics such as fall prevention before the work begins. That similar planning should be done at your home renovation project. You should ask the contractor about potential safety issues and ask how the contractor plans to address them.
Step 4 - Once the construction begins, the best practice would be to stay at the home and watch the construction unfold. Although most of us are not construction or safety experts, it is not difficult to spot bad safety practices. If workers are doing something dangerous, you probably will be able to tell. For instance, we have heard of contractors using buckets and swivel chairs as ladders. That never turns out well. We have heard of workers becoming intoxicated and falling off roofs. We have heard of workers not wearing hard hats or goggles. Such violations are easy for all to see. If you see workers doing dumb things, you need to say and do something about it.
At the end of the day, home renovations are totally stressful. It's depressing to spend so much money on your home, even though it makes your home so much nicer. It's also difficult to go without a kitchen, or bathroom, for days or weeks on end. But, perhaps the most stressful part is worrying about what happens if a contractor gets hurt. To alleviate some of that stress, follow the four steps outlined above and that should cover you from any lawsuits. Good luck and Happy Spring! 

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