We use cookies on this site to enhance your online experience. By continuing to use this site, you agree to accept cookies.


Obtaining Information from Government

Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, collected $12,000 from a nightclub for knocking out two front teeth while falling from a bathroom window to avoid a $3.50 cover charge for entering the club. The jury also awarded her dental care to fix her teeth.

This story, like many others like it, is an urban myth that circulates through cyberspace, and often gets repeated in the media and at coffee shops.

Unfortunately, many people do not have a good grasp as to what the law is, what they should worry about, and what they shouldn’t worry about.

In the thirty+ years that I’ve been a lawyer, I’ve encountered successful clients and unsuccessful ones. And, I’ve seen several clients that have experienced “career-ending injuries”. I thought it would be helpful to describe some of things that logging contractors ought to think about, and perhaps be worried about. (My comments in this article apply equally to log haulers.)

The most important advice I can give contractors is: be legally and financially healthy. Logging contractors should be primarily concerned, in my view, with profitability and security. I suspect that 95 percent of all contractors perform their tasks competently. But, knowing how to do one’s job is only half of the equation. Being business-like in the performance of that job is the other half. Those contractors that are good negotiators definitely do better than those that are not. Not enough contractors know whether, in any particular job, they are making money or losing money. Contractors need to be efficient and cost effective. They need to make themselves desirable for hiring.

I also see, in my practice, some contractors who are in an extremely dependent position with their licensee – a situation where the licensee acts as parent and the contractor acts as child. In other cases I see contractors that are on a more equal footing with their licensee, and those contractors are generally more successful.

Over the long term, companies that are not profitable encounter a variety of spin-off legal problems, such as problems with government debts, with creditors in general, and often with equipment repossessions. They have problems getting and keeping good jobs, and problems getting and keeping good workers. As an analogy, people in general good health may only need to see their doctors occasionally; people in general poor health will see them much more often.

Contractor security can be elusive. Certainly it is helpful to have a written contract in place, particularly when you consider the importance of having that work. It always amazes me that a log hauler may invest $150,000 or more on equipment, and a logging contractor many more dollars than that, but they consider it an extravagance to pay several hundred dollars to put a written contract in place. Many people misunderstand and overestimate the legal value of a hauling position or of a lengthy working relationship. Similarly, they underestimate the value of a written contract--that is, until there are problems. (This is a huge area of urban myths that need to be debunked.)

I have found that the more successful contractors are diversified, making them less dependant upon any one licencee or any one project. It improves their negotiating position. It also helps weather some financial storms.

Even the best contract may not protect a contractor from the insolvency of the other party, or a general downturn in the forest industry. In my view, a contractor should always be mindful of that possibility, and should have a contingency plan in place.

What other concerns should contractors have? I have seen large claims that have had crippling effects on clients. Some of the claims that come to mind are forest fire claims (they have the potential of being huge) and trespass claims for unauthorized harvesting on Crown land. Contractors need to have enough insurance, and the right kind of insurance, to deal with the unexpected. And, make sure that you are forthright and accurate when purchasing your insurance in the first place. Often an insurance company, when facing a large claim, will scrutinize the application and look for a way to deny coverage. Having one’s insurance voided, or finding out that there isn’t enough coverage (or any coverage), can have severe impacts.

The termination of long-term employees can give rise to significant liability. The mismanagement of a large project, particularly if there is remediation work necessary, or if the other party is unwilling or unable to pay, can constitute a major hardship.

For many people a drinking and driving conviction can be a major setback. Even if the offence occurs on personal time and in a private vehicle, the driving prohibitions that result will prevent a person from driving commercially, and that often results in severe financial hardship and even bankruptcy in the case of some drivers. It is another urban myth to think that special rules exist that relax the mandatory driving prohibition for commercial drivers when performing their work.

I have intended, in this column, to hit some high points. Hopefully this column will provide some helpful information for those who take time to consider it.

John Drayton is a Kamloops lawyer practicing in the area of forestry and motor transport law.