Nine Legal Problems You Can Avoid

Defending yourself against litigation costs your company time and money. Here’s how to limit your business’ involvement with the legal system.

Problem: Liability claims for auto accidents

“The number one issue for liability claims with pest control companies is automobile accidents. Most are rear-end accidents and involve distracted driving,” says Mark H. Ruff, a Maitland, Florida-based attorney who serves as general counsel for the Florida Pest Management Association and represents 60-plus pest control companies.

Pest control companies often fail to evaluate employees before they let them drive and then don’t conduct follow-up checks of their motor vehicle records every six months. Businesses invest in drive cam and GPS technologies, but don’t monitor them to determine which employees are driving unsafely. PCOs are also reluctant to fire top performers even if they are poor drivers with multiple speeding tickets or a history of accidents.

Solution: Check technicians’ and salespeople’s driving records not only when they are first hired but on an ongoing basis. Ruff suggests a two-ticket mandate: employees get a warning for their first ticket and are fired if they get a second one.

Problem: Liability issues due to poor training

“The weakest link in any litigation is always the technicians,” says Ruff. “You have technicians going out and performing services and they either don’t have the right training or the proper supervision so they make mistakes. The other thing they don’t teach them is product labels.” Technicians often don’t know and/or use proper spill control techniques.

There’s also a lack of training on building structures. Technicians drilling into a wall may hit pipes or gas lines just because they don’t understand basic construction.

Solution: Ensure that certified pest control operators really understand how to read labels and that they are training technicians with solid, verifiable and in-depth instruction about labels, product application, safety, etc. Be sure technicians are adequately supervised.

Problem: Poorly written contracts

In some states, defendants must pay plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees if they lose a court case. This leaves pest control operators open to claims if their contracts don’t comply exactly with statutory requirements. Something as simple as not bolding certain words might be a per se violation of the law.

Ambiguity can be a problem when PCOs try to write contracts themselves. “They want to make it a re-treat contract, so on the front side they have re-treat language but on the back side they have repair language. So they find themselves with a repair contract when that’s not what they intended,” says Clifton E. Slaten, a Montgomery, Alabama-based attorney who has represented pest control companies in litigation for almost two decades. In areas where PCOs want to exclude Formosan termites from coverage, contracts must include language that properly identifies the termites they will cover, i.e. native eastern subterranean termites, not just subterranean termites, which could include Formosan termites. They should also specifically exclude Formosan termites.

Solution: Review your contracts carefully to make sure you are complying with all of your state’s requirements for language, content and format. Ensure that your contract language is clear and not contradictory.

By Mary Lou Jay

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