Thursday, June 2, 2011

Big deals and small claims.

Big disputes arise in most everyone's life. When I say big, I mean big to the individual. I've been lucky but that may be because I don't enjoy fights.

When starting the business I thought the best way to stay out of court was to do a good job for a client and charge them a fair amount.  Simplistic isn't it?

In business of over 32 years there were only two clients who did not pay us.
One was a white cloth restaurant which had been in business into the third generation. They contracted with us for a job that was billed at $383.42. The bill remained unpaid after two months and I called to ask payables when it would be paid. We had not required prepayment as we had worked for one of the owners personally several times. The payables clerk told us they had not asked us to do the work and even though I sent a receipt for its acceptance, refused to pay. We discussed taking them to small claims but didn't as we knew we could make more than the total in the half day it would take for one of us to go downtown and present the case.

The restaurant went out of business three years later. This was after it had been sold to one of their former employees. That person owned it for less than a year before they went bankrupt.

The original owners had opened a second restaurant and because they had stiffed us on the first job we told them we would not take on more work for the new place. A friend in the printing business did all their printing and when the second restaurant went bankrupt they lost over $5,000. So by not collecting and thereby being asked to take on new work, we were blessed.

The second deadbeat was another restaurant, though they were really a seafood market that happened to also serve sandwiches. They had been in business five years and we did a small job that billed out at $183.98. The work was to set up a mailing list from hand written contest entry slips.

Within a month they went bankrupt. The owners went on a vacation for a couple of months. They then re-opened under a slightly different name in the same location. When asked about the money they owed us we were told "No that was the old business. This is an entirely different business." Of course having a well organized list to use in promotion helped the new business.

If you had gone into the new place the signage was the same, the food sold was the same and all the employees were the same.

This business closed this past week end. I will be on the look out for another reincarnation.

I was told after the first deadbeat game I should require all my clients to sign a contract. I never took the advice.  I saw that as a penalty to all the hundreds of good people we worked with. If I had a feeling they were rats I started requesting payment in advance.  It's amazing how that requirement kept us from working for nothing.
This subject of dead beats and small claims was prompted by a story in the New York Times about small claims courts cutting back evening hours because of budget constraints. Now instead of waiting a month and a half for a court date, it will be five months.

Have you ever had a small claim that you took to court? If you have, did you get justice?