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Hiring a contractor? Jesse explains the 'hold harmless' clause

I have a consumer alert for homeowners in need of contract work. Legal experts say it’s becoming more common for contractors to find ways for you to pay for their mistakes. It’s called a “hold harmless” clause. Basically, if a contractor hits a power or gas line you may have to pay for the repairs.

Will Pollock hired Premier Fence to install a new fence around his yard.  During construction the company hit a marked gas line.

“I heard him yell that he’d hit the gas line.  You could hear the noise too.  Not a roaring noise, kind of a real loud hissing noise,” recalled Pollock.

Puget Sound Energy came out and made repairs.  Pollock didn’t realize that his contract required him to defend and hold Premier Fence harmless for claims of damage to underground facilities.

“We’re not willing to take that responsibility because sometimes damage is unavoidable,” said Dave Russell, owner of Premier Fence.

Russell wanted to pass the $800 repair bill to Pollock, claiming he told the company to put the fence near the gas line.  Pollock disagrees.

“I work in the utility field.  So I’m the one that said, ‘does this need to be moved?’  They told me, it’s no problem,” said Pollock.

Construction lawyer Seth Millstein said it’s up to the homeowner to watch for these clauses in contracts.

“The contract may not be perfectly clear, but it’s very broad to get recovery for everything,” explained Millstein.

It’s important to know there is a state law stating a company doing excavation can’t shift liability if it doesn’t avoid damage or minimize interference with the gas line.

PSE took Premiere Fence to court for the repairs and the judge found in the utility company’s favor, holding Premier Fence responsible for the costs.

Russell said the clause is the only way to protect his company from utility identifiers that are only accurate to 2 feet on either side of the line, just a 4-foot margin of error.  He said he’s not going to sue Will and he’s going to get rid of the hold harmless clause in his contract.  After 40 years of business he wants to improve and educate his customers.

“Give them more information, we need to give them more, and as a homeowner if you dig a hole 2 feet from one of those marks there’s a risk of damage,” explained Russell.

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