Practice Pointers

The Importance of Getting Your License Before You Start Your Own Construction Business

Posted by on Jul 24, 2019 in Governance, Limiting Liability, Practice Pointers, Startup, Your Entity

Are you thinking about starting your own construction business? If so, whether in the commercial or residential setting, it is imperative to find out if you are required to have a license. Keep in mind each state has its own requirements. If you’re in Tennessee, it’s highly likely you’ll need one. Under Tennessee’s Contractors Licensing Act, it is unlawful for any person or business to represent itself as a licensed contractor, or to act in the capacity of a “contractor” while not licensed. Now, you may be thinking “I am not a contractor. I am a designer, or a supplier, or a subcontractor, etc—so the contractors’ license requirement does not apply to me and my new business, right?” Well, not necessarily. The term “Contractor” is incredibly broad under the Licensing Act. “Contracting” includes, among other things, bidding, offering to engage, supervising, overseeing, scheduling, directing or in any manner assuming charge of construction, alteration, improvement, or negotiating a price for projects of $25,000 or more (including all labor, materials, and equipment). Electrical, mechanical, plumbing, HVAC, and roof contractors must also be licensed when working directly with any contractor to perform projects when the total cost of that portion on the project is over $25,000. Tennessee also regulates licenses for certain types of “home improvement” in most of the larger counties. For example, a home improvement contractor’s license is required for residential projects that range from $3,000 to $24,999 (i.e. projects designed for a residence or dwelling unit with no more than 4 units). Again, the term “home improvement” includes a vast array of construction-related work, all of which requires a license – such as repairs, replacement, remodeling, alterations, and more.  Obtaining the appropriate contractor’s license before you start working is extremely important from a risk management standpoint. In fact, contracting in Tennessee without the appropriate license can expose your new business and possibly you, personally to significant liability. For example, to represent yourself as a licensed contractor without the required license, or to act in the capacity of a contractor without the required license, constitutes an unfair and deceptive act under Tennessee’s consumer protection law. This is significant, particularly to a business in its infancy, as you could end up on the hook for a dissatisfied client’s attorneys’ fees and triple their actual damages.  While there are a variety of other matters that must be tackled before getting a new construction business off the ground, licensing is certainly an important box to check off the list. The guidance of an experienced construction attorney can help alleviate any worries you may have in navigating the laws that may apply to you. In addition, finding a well-versed construction attorney can assist a new business in a multitude of areas spanning from drafting of construction contracts, handling of construction defect claims, payment and lien disputes, and other related matters. If you have questions specifically related to construction or general startup matters, please contact me or a member of Chambliss Startup group. *This blog post is brought to you by Logan...

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Terminating Your Contract: Things to Remember Part 2

Posted by on Mar 10, 2014 in Draft Your Contract, Practice Pointers

Let’s continue the discussion on issues to consider with regard to the termination of your contract. Most contracts have provisions governing what will constitute a breach or default and what the parties’ respective rights and obligations are in the event the contract is terminated for such breach or default (“termination for cause”). Right to Cure It is common in termination for cause provisions for the terminating party to allow the defaulting party to have a period in which to correct the default. This is typically called a “cure period.” Determining a reasonable cure period is dependent on the subject matter of the contract, the nature of the default and the parties’ respective bargaining powers. For example, if a party defaults in a service obligation under a contract, the provision may state that the defaulting party has ten (10) days to re-perform the service in accordance with the contract before the terminating party may officially terminate the contract. Notice One element of having the right to cure a default before the other party may terminate the contract is the concept of notice. Notice is important because it is a means by which the parties communicate to each other what is deficient or lacking in the other’s performance. Without adequate notice of what the breach or default is, it is difficult or impossible for the defaulting party to take full advantage of the cure period. Contracts typically have provisions stating when and how a party must notify the other of a default. The notice period is usually congruent with the cure period, such that the terminating party must provide a certain amount of prior notice of the default, coupled with providing the defaulting party the opportunity to cure the default, before the termination right is triggered. There are other matters to consider when dealing with termination issues, and these are just a few which pertain to termination for default. If you’re in the process of terminating or drafting a contract, please contact an attorney to discuss the particular termination issues that may be encountered in regard to your...

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Trademarks 101: Avoiding Common Mistakes

Posted by on Oct 4, 2013 in Intellectual Property, Practice Pointers

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses try to handle their intellectual property (in this case, trademarks) independently. While this works in some circumstances, entrepreneurs and small businesses often make the same mistakes when dealing with trademark searching and clearance which could be avoided relatively easily. Trademark searching and clearance involves the collection and analysis of information in order to assess a potential trademark’s viability from an availability and protectability standpoint. The process of trademark searching and clearance is crucial for businesses from a risk management standpoint, particulary those who rely heavily on a specific logo or brand. Consequences of an inadequate search or, God forbid, the failure to search can be drastic and can include being sued for trademark infringement (which can result in significant monetary damages) and/or an injunction that completely stalls a product launch or advertising campaign. While the process of trademark searching and clearance can be complicated, there are common mistakes that an entreprenuer or small business can take steps to avoid. Common Mistakes To Avoid: #1) Failing to Consult a Trademark Attorney: While this may come across as redundant, manipulative or simply not heplful from a common sense standpoint, it is no lie that many entrepreneurs and small businesses get into trouble with their brand, logo or other trademark assets because they made decisions or took actions without consulting a trademark attorney. (NOTE: a “trademark attorney”) Searching a trademark can be complicated and there are many potential pitfalls which can be avoided if an entrepreneur or company consults an experienced trademark attorney first. Most trademark search mistakes occur when the process of searching and clearance is conducted by a business manager or other personnel or, surprise surprise, by an attorney who does not specialize in trademarks. Therefore, make sure the attorney you consult actually has experience in trademarks.   Stay tuned for additional common mistakes that you can avoid in the trademark search and clearance...

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Do I Need An Entity For My Business?

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Practice Pointers, Your Entity

(*Note: this discussion presupposes a basic understanding of limited liability entities and alternatives, which have been discussed before and which we will discuss more in the future.) Many people starting a business often wonder if they need to set their business up as a corporation, LLC or some other entity. It is also common to encounter entrepreneurs who just automatically assume that they’ll structure their business as an LLC without really questioning whether they need to do so. By default, if you do not have an entity for your business, you will be considered to operate your business as a sole proprietorship, essentially meaning that the debts and obligations of the business will be considered to be your personal debts and obligations. Again, while this may be scary-sounding, it isn’t always that big of a deal for some people. While having the limited liability offered by a corporation, LLC or some other entity may be a good baseline, there are some individuals who will have businesses that could actually be operated as a sole proprietorship without any entity structure at all. How Do You Know If A Sole Proprietorship Is Okay For You? First and foremost, if you have partners or other individuals with whom you work closely on your business, you will more than likely need to be another type of entity (maybe even a general partnership, but probably another type of entity). Therefore, you really should only be considering a sole proprietorship if you operate your business alone. Whether you need an entity at all will depend on a number of other things, including (but by no means limited to): The kind of service or product you are providing. The degree to which you expect to make or lose money in the beginning. Whether your business is or will be open to the public (i.e. a place or portal where the public can access physically or digitally). Whether you plan to have employees or independent contractors. The degree to which you will borrow money or seek investors. How many assets you own in your name (home, stocks, etc.). Your personal risk tolerance. While we will discuss these issues in more detail over the next couple of weeks, it is important that you seek advice from legal counsel if you are starting a business or operating a business and have questions concerning your...

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Your Liability Can Have Limits #3

Posted by on Aug 22, 2013 in Draft Your Contract, Limiting Liability, Practice Pointers

We’ve talked about 2 ways people limit liability in a contract (waiver of consequential damages and limitation of liability provisions). Another way you or someone you’re negotiating against can limit contractual liability is by including a provision that limits the time in which a party can bring a claim under the contract—i.e. shortening the statute of limitations that otherwise would apply. I know that sounds great, but: “what’s a statute of limitations”? A statute of limitations is essentially a law which establishes the maximum time after an event has occurred within which a party may commence legal proceedings. That is to say, a statute of limitations is a law that basically tells people how long they have to file suit. Statutes of limitations can vary depending on the type of claim or issue at hand. For example, in the State of Tennessee, the default statute of limitations for breach of contract claims is 6 years, meaning if 6 years has passed since the other party breached your contract, you probably can’t sue him or her for breach of contract (unless your contract says otherwise). The Tennessee Code sets forth statutes of limitations for many types of actions, including defamation, injury to personal property, products liability, medical malpractice, and the list goes on. Not only is it important to know the statute of limitation which may apply to your potential legal claims in any given situation, you should remember that you can often limit these statutory limitations contractually. It is common for contracts to include a provision that shortens the default statute of limitations to 3 years, 2 years or even 1 year. I’ve even seen a contract that attempted to limit the period to 3 months (!). Statute of limitation provisions are often placed at the back of the contract in a “governing law,” “dispute resolution” or “miscellaneous” section. A shorter statute of limitations can really take you for surprise if you dilly-dally or delay your decision concerning whether to file a claim. Obviously, if you are providing the good or service, you’d probably want the period to be shorter, and if you’re the one buying the good or service, you’d probably want the period to be longer. If your contract doesn’t say anything about it, don’t worry: the statutory default of 6 years would kick in. Don’t be afraid of these limitations, though, because, if used correctly, they can really help both parties understand and manage their respective risks under the contract. While there may be a way to argue around the statute of limitations provision in your contract, this is one reason why you should always read the fine print carefully (*or have an attorney review your contract and advise you concerning liability matters). If possible, you want to avoid having to hire an attorney to argue why your contract provisions should be...

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Your Liability Can Have Limits #2

Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 in Draft Your Contract, Limiting Liability, Practice Pointers

Last time we discussed limitation of liability provisions and how they can be used by you or your vendors, suppliers and other independent contractors to limit, reduce or otherwise control liability under a contract. Another way contracting parties can limit liability is by including a Waiver Of Consequential Damages provision. While this provision can be part of an overall limitation of liability provision, it is often set apart as its own provision. Without getting into a detailed discussion on what types of damages constitute consequential damages (this is an entirely separate blog discussion that will come later), we can use the most classic example of consequential damages: lost profits as the focus of our discussion. When you are providing goods or services to a client, you may want to consider including a waiver of consequential damages provision in order to better protect yourself in the event your client later claims that you breached the contract (or a warranty) and that caused them to lose profits or incur other consequential damages. Conversely, if you are buying goods or services, you will want to look very closely at any waiver language to see if your suppliers, vendors or independent contractors are attempting to waive responsibility for any consequential damages, including lost profits, that you may suffer as a result of their breach. Depending on the distribution of bargaining power between you and the other contracting party, you may not be able to negotiate this issue, but here are 2 things to consider about waivers of consequential damages: (1) If you are faced with a supplier, vendor or independent contractor who wants you to agree to a waiver of consequential damages, you will at least want to try to make sure the waiver is MUTUAL (i.e. applies equally to both parties). (2) Although we will have to discuss the scope of consequential and other damages at a later date, it is important for you to understand your level of exposure to damages in general, including consequential damages like lost profits, should your suppliers, vendors or independent contractors breach. It could be that whatever you’re buying from them wouldn’t really impact your business in a way that concerns you enough to put up a big fight about including this waiver language. So, know and understand the types of damages you may suffer from a supplier’s breach. (e.g. There is a huge difference between suffering from some losses resulting from additional rental fees should your supplier be late in a delivery of purchased goods vs. losses resulting from a complete shutdown of operations). Please contact an attorney if you’re ever faced with the decision of whether and how to waive or limit consequential damages in your contracts–there are many more considerations and this discussion only skims the...

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