No matter how skilled and experienced you may be, accidents happen. Maybe you accidentally break a window or you drop the family heirloom. Breaking something at a job site is never pretty, and neither is the process of fixing it, but it can be done!

Here’s what you should consider when repairing any damage you make to someone’s property:

Whether the damage was your fault

Determine if the damage was caused by the work you were doing, or a factor that you didn’t have control over.

If a tree fell over during a storm onto the roof of the house where you were remodeling a bathroom, that isn’t your responsibility. Damages that are incurred from natural causes are covered by the homeowner’s insurance.

Look back at whether the contract specifies if you are responsible for the damage. If you already provided the homeowner with a clear list of the damages that were possible and that you don’t claim responsibility for, you wouldn’t face any charges for them as part of your initial agreement. This list would come in the form of a pre-construction evaluation that we’ll talk about later.

Whether you can fix it and accept the cost

Before getting into any insurance claims or legal negotiations, check if the damage is something you can fix easily. A hole in some drywall can be repaired, as could a small scratch on the wall that you may have caused when moving equipment.

If it costs you a little extra money to repair something, you may want to be willing to accept those costs and move on. Your reputation is everything as a contractor, and you want your customers to know that you’re willing to fix your mistakes.

Whether you should file a claim with your insurance company

Before the project begins, you should always make it clear to the homeowner that you are insured in the event that any accidents that may occur, and that all of your employees are insured in case they face any injuries while working. Verify that the homeowner has homeowner’s insurance for any other accidents that may occur that aren’t your fault. This may seem tedious to go through, but it will create a safer working environment and help your reputation in the long run.

Whether a dispute resolution program will work for you

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs are out there if you and the homeowner cannot agree on a settlement a damage that has occurred and want to avoid going to court. ADRs are ways to settle conflicts by using a third party that is not the court system, like an independent mediator. Sometimes your trade association may have a dispute resolution system available for your line of work. Other times, ADRs are provided by the area where you live.

Los Angeles County, for example, provides an ADR free of charge to residents if they want to access a mediator to resolve a dispute.

In 2015, their ADR program served over 20,000 county residents and successfully resolved 78% of the cases they oversaw. It might not be the conventional solution for solving disputes, but it may be better than paying steep attorney fees.

Whether you need a lawyer in case you have to go to court

If you and the homeowner can’t reach an agreement over how to settle something that was broken, then you might be headed to court. Generally, this would take place in a small claims court because most of the damages that contractors deal with are (hopefully) not excessive to the point where they need to go to a larger court level.

In any case, you should be prepared to contact an available lawyer. Make sure that you have copies of the contract, receipts, and any correspondence with the homeowner that can be used to support your case. It would also help to have photos or video of the damage.

How you can use this as a learning experience

Perhaps the most important thing you should realize after breaking something during a project is that you can learn from the experience. Use it as an opportunity to see where you could have done better. Should you have been more careful? Did you forget to remind them about possible damages during the contract negotiation process?

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of a pre-construction evaluation. This is a list for you to include in a contract that consists of things the homeowner can do to minimize damages that could occur. You should always include this in your contract because it allows homeowners to prepare their house for when you arrive to work on the project. Here’s a list of things that you should notify the homeowner of in a pre-construction evaluation:

  • Noise levels
  • Removing any loose items from shelves and walls like pictures, plates, and other valuables
  • Expect any exterior scuffing that might occur if roof work is being done
  • Removing any items from the exterior of a home that might be damaged in the process of work being done
  • Moving any cars and vehicles away from where the project will be done
  • Keeping small children and pets away from the project area
  • Providing access to company trucks or vehicles that may need to access the working area
  • Being wary of any nails or debris that may fall at or near the site of the project, which may have been missed by employees despite every effort to clean them up

Be sure to add to this list as your experience grows. As we mentioned before, accidents happen, but you can become better at what you do if you learn from them.