It’s every tradesman’s worst nightmare, isn’t it? There you are, trying to manage the multitude of tasks involved in running your own business when you receive the dreaded news: someone has decided to take legal action against you.
Whether it’s an unhappy customer or an employee, it comes as a huge blow, even if you’re convinced you’ve done nothing wrong. After all, watching a whole bunch of Law & Order reruns isn’t exactly enough to prepare you for dealing with this kind of thing in real life. So it can be confusing – if not downright scary – to try and figure out where to start.
If that’s the situation you find yourself in (or you just want to make sure you’re prepared for the worst), here are five crucial steps you need to take when legal action is taken against your business.
Gather the facts
Though you don’t have to slip into a suit and start acting like you’re in an episode of Inspector Morse, now is a good time to do a little detective work and determine what actually happened. If the site you’re working on is covered by CCTV, for example, then this is the perfect place to start.
It could be that you’re being taken to court by a former contractor who claims they were injured whilst working on site for you. Reviewing the CCTV footage should first of all show you whether or not the injury actually happened.
If it did, it could also help you determine whether or not the injury was actually your fault. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time messing about on the job backfired on someone, would it? You might also want to want to consider speaking to other contractors or anyone else who was there at the time and get their account of the event in question.
Unfortunately, there’s still a chance that all this fact-finding might prove your business is at fault after all. Still, even if that happens, you’re in a much better position to work on a solution than you would be without having the facts to hand.
Gather any relevant documentation
There may come a time when, even despite your very best effort to do everything by the book, something unexpected goes awry that ultimately lands you with a menacing solicitor’s letter. It could be a freak accident on site, a customer who’s convinced your work isn’t up to scratch, or even a random chancer hoping to make a quick buck at your expense.
Whether you’re liable or not, it’s always better to prove that you did everything you could to prevent a problem wherever possible. This might mean you gather together your contracts with clients or employers, your health and safety documents, or anything else that could help demonstrate that you’re not at fault.
Review your policies & procedures
Again, this fact-finding mission could prove that you are liable after all. If that’s the case, now is a good time to review your business procedures, give your policies another look, and consider any changes you could make that would prevent something similar from happening again in the future.
Seek legal advice
Even if you’ve gathered plenty of evidence and supporting documents yourself, it’s still worth seeking the advice of a professional. Legal experts can work with you to turn those documents into a solid defence should things end up in court and ensure your business is properly represented by someone with experience in similar matters.
Alternatively, they may even be able to help you avoid going to court in the first place by mediating between you and your accuser to come up with a mutually-agreeable outcome.
Present your side of the story
The only thing worse than someone taking legal action against you is them telling the press or, worse, social media, all about the situation. Suddenly, you find that the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build is destroyed thanks to a single news article or viral Facebook post.
It’s tempting to stay silent in times like these, but you may find it more helpful to prepare a statement and present your side of the story. Of course, this doesn’t mean going on the attack and laying into your accuser. Nor does it mean you should automatically present your side of things regardless as to whether the other party goes to the media or not.
What it does mean though, is that if that if they do, you should present a logical and accurate version of events, showing that you’re dealing with the matter professionally and doing all you can to resolve it.
Have you ever been affected by someone taking legal action against you? How did it impact your business? Share your experiences with us in the comments below, or join in the discussion on Facebook or Twitter.