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By Gary Thill
With many states reopening and employees coming back to work, it may seem as though the worst of the pandemic is finally over. But roofing companies need to start taking extra precautions now to prevent “waves” of liability lawsuits that are likely coming from workers and customers.
“Lawyer friends of mine have told me they have the complaint forms ready to go,” warned Trent Cotney, NRCA General Council and CEO of Cotney Construction Law. “They’re just waiting for us to get over the hump and then the waves and waves of lawsuits are going to come. So roofers need to understand that every single job they go to is a potential lawsuit.”
Cotney said roofers need to make sure they’re taking precautions to guard against liability on two fronts: employees and customers, both of which are related.
For employees, he said it’s important to have proper COVID-19 prevention measures in place. In office environments, those measures include hand sanitizing stations, regular disinfectant cleaning of surfaces, and following CDC guidelines. For work crews, measures include:
“If you’ve called everyone back to the office and someone gets sick you could have some real liability issues there,” Cotney said.
Sick workers carry a two-pronged liability risk. First, the worker can sue the employer. Second, customers can sue the employer if they think they were sickened by a sick worker. Cotney said that scenario is already playing out with nursing homes. Some with the worst outbreaks are now being hit with multi-million lawsuits and are now trying to spread the blame to roofing companies that may have been working on the facilities.
Along with the more high-profile nursing homes, Cotney said he’s also seeing lawsuits from regular customers who became sickened with COVID-19 against roofing companies they claim sickened them.
“Roofing contractors need to be very careful right now,” Cotney said. He added that NRCA offers many helpful resources.
Along with ensuring that workers are taking necessary health precautions, he recommended that roofers develop a rider that customers sign with each project. Such a rider would release both the company and the customer from liability should either party be sickened.
“A lot of times customers will sign it because they’re concerned about their own liability,” he said.
However, Cotney urged roofers to consult with their attorneys on such documents. He said each state has its own rules and guidelines concerning such riders. “The laws in New York may be very different than the laws in Tennessee,” he said. “Making these riders applicable in each state requires some hand crafting.”
Even with ongoing pandemic issues, Cotney sounded a hopeful note about the industry. "One thing I can say about roofing is that we are family and we always stand up to meet whatever crisis there is," he said. "We're just a tough bunch of people and it's hard to keep us down."