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Re: I Got Th' "Eagle Done Flew" Blues!

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Caldwell, Stan wrote:
Happy Saint Patty's Day, Bill:

It appears to me that you are once again confusing Texas with Heaven.  

If you only have a verbal understanding with the architect, then for all practical purposes your contract agreement is virtual, not real, and not enforceable.

Try small claims court.  It costs almost nothing and does not require the services of a lawyer.  Back when I used to work for architects, I dragged several deadbeats into small claims court and always walked away smiling.  Of course, this only works if you have a written contract and if you no longer want to work for the defendant architect.


Stan R. Caldwell, P.E.
Dallas, Texas

This is a small claims suit - it is not worth going into superior court to sue the client. Here is what I have learned from years of different scenario's:
  1. I am assuming your contract is with the architect. The same thing happened to me and the bottom line was that the judge pro-tem (small claims) admonished the architect since he owed you the money. If the client refuses to pay the architect for your fee, then the problem becomes the architects not yours and the architect is still responsible for your fee.
  2. Verbal agreements are an acceptable form of contractual agreement in California as long as you are working for an Architect or contractor. If you work for a layperson or owner, then you must have a written agreement - but my experience on this is that regardless of how right you are, the small claims court will allow you first to arbitrate. If you refuse to arbitrate because you are convinced that the total fee is owed to you then the judge will most likely side with the owner.
  3. I am assuming that none of the people involved in the small claims suit will "lie" in court. In my case, the client lied and told the judge that I did not have the work done and asked for an additional three to four months to complete the work. The client was a psychologist and her contractor was her boyfriend. What I told them was that I needed a week to ten days as they demanded the work to be finished in three days which was not possible. I was delayed, but I still had performed work and the judge sided with the client and I had to return the entire fee.
  4. The next step if you lose is to appeal and this is where it goes to the superior court and both sides can have an attorney represent them. To circumvent this I did the wrong thing - I confronted the contractor and his girl friend in the parking lot - looking them dead on in the eye and asking why they lied in court to the judge. I told them I would appeal and they berated me calling me a "small fry" and told me that they had the money to fight me no matter how long I wanted to fight.
  5. The result was a long talk with my car repair guy who had gone through this many times and I decided to eat  it and forget it. I returned their retainer and although it still bothers me how unfair it is, life is simply not fair. I think you have a better chance that I did because you are trying to collect from an architect.
I am finding that clients who start you one work and then can't wait the lead time you informed them of in the beginning (even if it is in the contract) they can stop the work and demand a refund of their payment - you not only eat the work you did, but you have lost other potential clients when you gave them your time and refused work from others who needed you. So you lose twice.
An architect who does not support his engineer is not worth working for and I would not let him off the hook. Sue the Architect in small claims and make if clear to the Judge that your contract is with the architect and not the owner.

Sorry, but I am sick and tired of people weaseling out of their commitment to you and treating a contract as tough it were a piece of toilet paper. It doesn't happen often but lately it seems to be happening more as economic conditions change on a daily bases and depending where you are in the country. With the one exception of this contractor and his girlfriend who lied, I've won all other cases - albeit I might have lost some of the fee I was suing for, but I walked out feeling some satisfaction.



Dennis S. Wish, PE
California Professional Engineer
Structural Engineering Consultant


760.564.0884 (office - fax)

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