Can I take a rigging contractor to small claims court in Florida for doing incomplete, dangerous shoddy work on my sailboat?

Sailboat

QUESTION:  I had work done on my sail boat in Palmetto Florida by a rigger between April ’15 and July ’15. He was paid about $15,000 for the work. It’s now Oct 19, 2015 and I’ve discovered much of the work was not completed. For example, a bracket at the top of the 60′ mast supporting a 2lbs device required two screws and he put in one, which has now comes loose. If that bracket came off and hit someone they’d be dead. Further example, two clutches that hold lines in place were only installed with one bolt when two are required. These clutches are under extremely high load and would cause serious injury or death if they came off. I trusted this professional rigger to ensure the rigging was safe. I’m now in a position of having to hire another rigger to double-check & fix the previous guy’s work.

ANSWER:

First, have you written the rigger, advised him of your concerns and given him an opportunity to cure? If you have been ignored, you should try a small claims case. That is a legal action filed in county court to settle minor legal disputes among parties where the dollar amount involved is $5,000 or less, excluding costs, interest, and attorneys’ fees. Forms that have been approved for statewide use are located within the Florida Small Claims Rules. The clerk of court may also be able to provide you with copies of appropriate forms.

A small claims action begins by filing a Statement of Claim. Small claim cases should be filed with the clerk in the appropriate county. Filing fees for small claims actions are established in the Florida Statutes and local county ordinances, and are subject to change by legislative action. The clerk of court may will provide information on filing fees.

After filing, each person being sued must be served with a summons/notice to appear in court on a date and time scheduled by the clerk after the initial claim was filed. A copy of the Statement of Claim should be attached to the summons provided in the Florida Small Claims Rules. Additional sheriff fees are required for service of process on the parties being sued. The court may schedule an initial pretrial conference and also order the parties to mediation to resolve problems. Defendants may file counterclaims, set-offs, or third party complaints as provided in the Florida Small Claims Rules. Practice and procedure may vary from county to county. The clerk of court in the county where the action is filed should be contacted for local practices and procedures.

You will need your expert at the trial to support the deficiencies in the work. Your expert should prepare a detailed report of the problems and the cost to cure. That report should contain photographic evidence before and after the cure. He should bring the manufacturer’s installation instructions showing what should have been done. Detailed records of what the cure consisted of and how long it took per item is essential. If you win, it does not mean you get paid automatically. You have to go about collecting the Judgement. The court cannot collect money damages for you. You may wish to consult with an attorney for advice on how to collect a judgment. Recording a certified copy of the judgement clouds the title to his real property and a writ of execution can be used to direct a sheriff to levy on personal property belonging to the debtor. But I digress, collection is not the focus of your question. Good luck and best regards.

Christopher Weiss
chris@cweisslaw.com

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