Company that violated HICA not entitled to attorney fees

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Because a company hired to provide water remediation services for a homeowner did not comply with the Indiana Home Improvement Contract Act, it is not entitled to recover attorney fees on its complaint against the homeowner after he didn’t pay the full amount billed.

Vincent Cullers hired First Response Services when discovering water in his basement after being away from home for several days. A company representative came to the house and discussed removing the carpet and pad from the basement, but no contract or estimate was given at that time. The next day a dumpster was delivered that Cullers did not expect. First Response employees arrived and began removing carpet. While they were working, an employee gave Cullers two documents to sign: a “Third Party Work Authorization” form and a “Customer Communication/Work Authorization” form listing.  The Third Party Work Authorization form mentions that Cullers is responsible for anything that is not covered by his insurer.

He signed the papers and left while work was being performed. When he returned, he found drying equipment in the basement, which he didn’t authorize. He contacted First Response to pick up the equipment and offered the company $1,200, which the company declined. It sent him an invoice for $7,722.43. He refused to pay more than $1,200, leading to this litigation.

The trial court found First Response violated the HICA by failing to provide Cullers a contract that included a reasonably detailed description of the proposed home improvements, the home improvement contract price, and starting and completion dates. There is a contractual obligation for Cullers to pay for First Response’s services, but because of the HICA violations, Cullers is only responsible for nearly half the amount First Response billed.

The trial court denied First Response’s request for attorney fees.

First Response argued that the contract was modified by I.C. 24-5-11-10(c) dealing with a contract entered into involving damages covered by an insurance policy. But there’s no evidence that Cullers was asked if his insurance would cover part of the cost or if he had contacted his insurance agent about coverage.

“It cannot have been the intent of the legislature to allow a company to routinely circumvent the strict requirements of the statute by simply obtaining information about the fact of insurance without also inquiring into whether the insurance would actually cover the work,” Judge Margret Robb wrote. “This is especially true given that a contract with the modified requirements is allowed by the terms of the statute if the work ‘is covered’ by insurance, not ‘if the consumer has insurance,’ or if the work ‘might be covered.’”

The two documents in this case needed to comply with the requirements of subsection (a) of HICA, and the contract failed in several respects, specifically with respect to a reasonably detailed description of the proposed home improvements and a price. As a result, First Response is not entitled to attorney fees.

The case is First Response Services, Inc. v. Vincent A. Cullers (Vincent A. Cullers Counterclaim Plaintiff v. First Response Services, Inc. Counterclaim Defendant), 41A01-1305-PL-224.


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