Our new office is like the old one, it used to be a shop and it is still in a row of shops but is also grouped with others in a small 1970s built shopping mall. It started off as an Estate Agents and then was the village charity shop for 17 years, then was empty for nearly a year before we moved in. It means that people can walk off the street and make enquires, get quotes and make appointments to get their oven cleaned etc.
A couple of weeks ago I was sat in the office, a guy came in for an oven cleaning quote. On the way in he exclaimed: “Wow that door handle is sharp and scratchy, you need to get that fixed!” It seemed an odd thing to say as no one else had mentioned a problem. I checked it after he had left and it was fine to me, smooth with no scratches or anything. I have been into our shop lots of times and it got me thinking about someone putting themselves in the frame for a claim! Call me cynical but let me tell you about a problem which might crop up for you…
I see some real liability problems in the professional oven cleaning industry if you don’t do things properly. I mean I’ve heard first hand from the owner of an oven cleaning van which had caught on fire when the gas pipes had ignited when she (she is still running an oven cleaning company) had been trying to light them and I tend to worry about the potential consequences of this. This was years ago now, she and several other franchisees, left their network because they took group legal action as the system was unsafe, this franchise has since switched to plastic electrically heated tanks.
The reason I know about legal problems for an oven cleaning company is that someone made a claim against my company a couple of years ago, and the threat of someone making a claim against you as a oven cleaning business is high even though the rules for engaging a solicitor, as far as I am aware, have changed since then, which I’ll come to later on.
So why did the person make a claim against us?
Well because I have an electric system and I live in a terrace house where the front room is directly on the street I used to plug the cable for my van into my van and then run it across the pavement into my house (now in our new office I can park the van outside the rear of the office and it is completely away from any pedestrians). As I have lived in the same house for six years I had been doing that ever since I have lived here, I would heat up before going out for the day to do my jobs. Immediately outside my house there is a large old neon street lamp that illuminates the whole street to give it as daylight (with an orange tint) visibility I used to just lay the blue cable across the payment, as it was really obvious.
In the February of that year I was out working on a Saturday and when I was doing the jobs I noticed my tank wasn’t that hot so on the following day, the Sunday , I sorted out the problem. I can’t remember what I did, I may have replaced the thermostat or even the element or may have been a smaller problem, but anyway I got it working. And at about 9 o’clock in the evening I put the cable out and went into the house and kept it on for just half an hour just to make sure it was all working and the dip tank was heating up. After I checked to make sure it was heating up properly I just packed everything up and went back to watching the telly.
In the April of that year, apparently after a TV programme on Channel 4 about making claims again small companies, we got a letter from an ‘Accident Solicitor’ to say that his client had tripped over my cable (that night in February) and sustained two small grazes to her little finger and a small cut to her cheek. We told our insurance company who IMMEDIATELY doubled our liability insurance. It went from £400 a year to £800 a year (it is still the same).
The thing about this is that, I don’t know if you have tried, it is very difficult to ‘trip’ over a cable that is flat on the ground. Also on the night it happened, nobody banged on my window (the window of my front room where I would have been sitting) and ranted about my cable, nor did I hear anything or notice any thing wrong with my cable. The claimant also wrote in her statement that the village was in pitch darkness with no street lighting.
We had a few letters from the Solicitors over a period of time, someone from the insurance company came out to see me and I wrote a statement, then we heard from the Solicitors to say they were not proceeding any more.
Then six months later we had another letter from them to say they’d changed their minds and now they were. This time things progressed, and in most claims of this sort the Insurance company pays out before it goes to court. They paid out £7500, the claimant got £1500 and the ‘Accident Solicitors’ got the rest. Hmm as I said to the guy who was in my class at school and who is now a partner at a top London law firm: “Where did I go wrong?”
So from this I think you’ll agree it’s pretty easy to make a claim against a small company if they have liability insurance in place!! Three small cuts equates to £1500. God knows what the figures would have been if it had been a proper injury?
So after this we now have cable covers and signs, and we give our franchisees them already made up (not that they are going to need them these days as the insulated tank stays hot all day so they aren’t going to be heating up in the street or at customers houses) and now although you can see them they are a lot easier to trip over than the cable was before!
This is why we find franchisees who ideally have a drive to park their van in and also why our system, because it stays hot all day with no additional heating up, is SAFER for you and your business!!
Somebody asked me the other day what did I thought of the twin element electric heater tank on Ebay. Well hopefully its better because you can heat up at the beginning of the day faster and then that is. But if the tank doesn’t retain its heat like ours it means that it is going to be have heated up at one of the jobs in the day. Or if you are using something that isn’t a high alkaline solution you are going to need to take the solution up to boiling point at each job, which means running the cable out at each job which means you’ll need to make sure that you have some signs and cable covers, and if you use two elements it means two cables with two cable covers and signs – a potential management nightmare. Also if the solution is taken up to boiling point the welds a plastic tank may be affected and leak. Ours has never done this but another oven cleaning company told that me that this had been a problem with their tanks.
If you have a heated gas system the liability issue is huge, live flames, gas bottles, rubber gas supply pipes that can melt ; I can’t even start to work out how to negotiate around that to reduce potential liability claims, though I have noticed that some franchise operations are pedantic about the franchisee staying in the van (they read the paper in our area with the windows down so they don’t get poisoned by the carbon monoxide) whilst the tank is lit and heating up at each job – we have got jobs from them as they haven’t been able to park next to houses with restricted access . But others aren’t and have a luck lustre attitude to it all ; I’ve seen unattended vans, with lit gas burners in the back, outside houses, with an ‘A’ board stuck on the pavement which basically says ‘This van is HOT stay away’. Which really is laughable, that sign in itself is a liability.
But I’d guess that companies that have been using gas systems for years now as their main dip tank with have this all wrapped up in their training, as they had to deal with the issues of the gas tanks first hand so they’ll know how to train their franchisees to deal with the problems or any potential problems or I hope they have.
Since April 2013 there has been some changes in these sort of claims. The good news for the claimant is if they win the Solicitors costs are limited to a maximum of 25% of the damages award. So the Solicitor will have to work out whether the risk is worth them going forward with the claim, which will normally be determined by the extent of the injuries of the claimant.
So in all you need to wise up on possible personal injury claims.