If you run an active automatic door service company it is not a matter of IF you will be sued . . . it is a matter of WHEN ! What every door service provider can do to proactively protect their business.
As one of the most frequently retained automatic door injury experts in the country, I am routinely hired by plaintiff and defense attorneys. I am known as one of the most impartial experts in this field and have been requested by numerous service providers and manuf acturers to assist in their defense. I have a unique perspective having been involved in door and hardware sales, service, and installations as a working contractor for more than twenty five years. Many independent door service providers have used my services as automatic door expert to help defend claims made against them. When they have been named as either a co or cross defendant, I have been instrumental in their being released from the claim.
Many attorneys choose to directly sue each individual entity that they can identify in the chain of commerce, or solely sue the prime party that owned or managed the location where the injury took place. In the latter case, it is hoped that the prime defendant will make claims against every party that has ever worked on the doors, waiting for that sub party to provide additional contractually required indemnification, or at least partial participation in defense and possible settlement contributions.
When I have been retained by the plaintiff I have been involved in assessing and determining the responsible parties that are directly sued. After discovery and documentation disclosures, it is frequently apparent that many service providers are often completely uninvolved in the claim, but they become named regardless. I have often advised the plaintiff's attorney that the fault was directly attributable to the store ownership and management for not having competent service providers, comprehensive daily safety inspections, or have programs and policies in place to train employees to understand the in-house responsibilities that come with any automatic door system. In many cases there are numerous service providers that have been used for a single doorway and it is difficult to prove which company created the problem. Usually there are inadequate records and documentation that identifies what services were performed and by what service company. Other large chain store claims have named the master service provider, the regional affiliated companies (sometimes 3 or more), and a variety of uninvolved vendors that may have manufactured components or performed the original installation. This is done in an attempt to include these entities in the potential settlement.
Every case is unique and has many variable factors. In many cases the management of the stores where the injury occurred felt that the service providers that they call upon on an as-needed basis are responsible for the claim, even though those providers have not been to their store for 6 months or more. Conversely, there are cases where a service technician was at the store just hours before the injury. In that circumstance, it is difficult to believe that the service provider bears no fault for the accident.
In general terms, the majority of cases ultimately show that the store ownership has failed to understand the responsibility to perform daily safety inspections of the automatic door systems. Many service providers have some responsibility for part of the injury claims due to poor business practices that may have been unintentional, or are completely at fault due to lack of proper technical training of their staff members. The manufacturers of the door systems typically have little or no responsibility for product defects or hidden problems, yet are included in most lawsuits. When special job requirements mandate installation crews provided by the general contractors or construction management, with no automatic door systems experience and lack proper training, they often fail to properly assemble and set up the door systems per the manufacturer's instructions.
Limiting Your Exposure:
One last observation:
There are several well-known "so called" automatic door experts that seem to lack any trade experience or working knowledge of the field. I have repeatedly seen a couple of these men custom tailor their analysis of a case to attack any entity that fits the needs of the attorney that hired them. First their evaluations point the finger at a store, and then when the store manages to get removed from the case, the amended opinion by these experts takes aim at the manufacturer of the door system, the service providers, or sometimes component vendors. If you find yourself in a legal situation hopefully you will have followed the direction of this article and have a substantial paper trail to prove your professionalism.
Michael Panish is the most frequently retained expert witness in the country for both plaintiff and defense cases involving overhead doors, automatic doors, and manual door systems. He has a thorough understanding of these door systems and a hands-on background that provides a basis for his expert opinions and working expertise. Mr. Panish has been retained on numerous cases that have quickly resolved after his involvement. He has been brought into many cases to replace previous experts that were unable to explain or identify the issues of causation. He has personally serviced, installed, and maintained major brand door products for many years. He is the author of many articles that cover most aspects of door components, door hardware, and door injury claims. Visit his website at www.constructionwitness.com for a list of relevant articles and to view all of his expert and consulting services.
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