If you were the victim of a bed delivery mix-up would you remain sanguine or serve a writ? Our legal columnist considers the options and sees parallels in the construction industry
The new bits for the new bed arrived Friday, a John Lewis purchase. Yes new bits. That’s because the new bed that came last week had the wrong bits. These bits are a tad critical. The bits are the two side rails. Of course my trusty assistant and I didn’t find out that the two side rails were for a king-size bed until we assembled and finally plonked the standard-size mattress in place.
John Lewis was very apologetic. The van came within three days - enough time for me and my assistant to retrace our assembly instructions. So on Friday the new bits replaced the old new bits, if you see what I mean. Oh, by the way, the standard instructions said that the bed assembly would take two of us one hour. No chance.
Instead of one hour of this lawyer’s time and one hour for his boss, it took, shall we say, five man and woman hours. Answer me this. If you were involved in taking more than twice the labour, (nay craftsman’s time) to do the job, would you be making a “loss and expense claim”? Not to put too finer point on it, isn’t that the type of claim the construction industry thrives on? One man’s lash-up is another man’s contractual claim - something like that I think.
So, here is one teeny-weeny contract, my contract to supply me materials fit for the purpose of assembly. The supplier boobed. The purchaser, me, was the victim. Multiply all that up to one of your construction contracts. Instead of the odd lash-up here and there, it will be the odd lash-up every day; and now comes the crunch - shall we do nothing or shall we seek simple compensation, or shall we milk the lash-up?
And there you get to the heart of the construction disputes business. The other bloke will invariably reckon that you are not seeking compensation, you are exploiting, you are trying to get a leg-over - even cheat, swindle, steal. And very soon attitudes harden, confrontation set in. Damn it, the odd lawyer or three pops up. And what do you make of my spending five hours instead of two? And what do you think of me sending a claim for three hours at a barrister’s day-work rate to John Lewis? And what do you think of me charging for the further time in writing and quarrelling with John Lewis about the turn of events and the phone calls and my boss’s time on top? Have I jointed that well-known outfit of lily gilders? Have you also joined with your recent claim?
I haven’t, nor will I send a bill to John Lewis. Life is full of everyday lash-ups. I expect the odd event of inconvenience. And if you are in the construction industry, so do you. Are you expected to price for it? Is your price supposed to allow for the lash-up - the mistake? Don’t ask me, I only make a living putting beds together.