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How to not get sued for machine work?

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  • How to not get sued for machine work?

    So here's my situation: An acquaintance of mine is building an esoteric-looking motorcycle for an art show. When he had me make some parts, I mentioned that they were a little questionable in terms of their strength, but since it was for an art show, all it needed to do was hold together to let the bike roll around. Now he mentions that there is a buyer for this, and he intends to ride around on it. So I told him to go talk to some kind of a lawyer person to see what he has to do for liabilities.

    Does anybody know what kind of options are available to him (the designer) in order to not get sued in case something were to break? Such as no warranty, disclaimers, having a "real" engineer sign off, keeping it as non-street-legal "art work" and whatever the buyer does is not his problem, etc?

    And secondly, what can I do to keep people from coming after me? (even if the part that breaks is not mine) I am not sure that simply making the part according to the drawing is enough. If I tell him "yeah, that looks pretty iffy, maybe you better make it thicker..." does that make me complicit as a designer?

    I read some other threads related to this issue, and will preemptively include these blurbs:

    Sometimes there are spam lawsuits where the plaintiff will try to sue everybody peripherally related.
    Yes, anybody can sue anybody else.
    If you are sufficiently poor, they might ignore you.
    LLC may or may not help?
    Having insurance is an invitation for them to sue you.

    I realize that two options are to not do the work (therefore not making future money), and talk to a lawyer myself (therefore spending money right away).

    I am hoping to get some practical and realistic (i.e. based on experience and probabilities) advice on what is done in these situations, and not dire warnings based on fringe cases that just make me want to stay home and lock the doors.

  • #2
    Perhaps you can get an signed indemity form from him saying that this item/parts is art and for show only and not designed for actual use and that it/they are not to be used for any purpose other than for show and are conditionally sold to him on the condition that he agrees and understands this, and that if onsold after they leave your possesion that he agrees that he will be solely liable for any and all damages or claims should they arise, and that he takes full responsibilty for the design and structural strength of the parts which were made to his specifications and approved by him after manufacture as complying with his specifications.

    Although you would need to get a legal person to draft it up to make sure that all the wording is correct and no loopholes exist to nullify this form and it's liability waiver. Costly now.. maybe, but not as much as when it all goes horribly wrong and someone starts to look for people to point fingers at. Once that happens I think that he will be seriously think about onselling it as anything except "Art" as it will be his problem.

    Hope this helps.



    • #3
      Just my thoughts, first as on TV LLC is cheap enough fast no big red tape thing.
      Second when a customer requires a part as you mention, You or the customer
      provide a "job order" or drawing (specs) and have him or her SIGN it as
      approved. Two copies when finished take pictures. I say this when you
      seem to get that gut feeling. If you ever end up in court, you must make proof
      you cant go there with empty pockets. All in print the part was machined with
      this, (material) it was or was not hardened, it was machined to customer
      specs. WHICH WAS SIGNED AS APPROVED, THE copy of job order , the bill
      invoice two pics. throw it in the file cabinet. Now the plaintif has to prove that
      a failure was a machinist flaw or shoddy workmanship and the defendant
      provides written proof that, thats what the customer wanted . Example customer
      says ok make it out of plastic, paint it flat black, its only a prop. Then the
      customer sells it, someone get hurt>>ya all go to court=BUT customer
      approved the job order, thats what was required, guess the burdon of proof
      is on the customer. Beleive me Ret. Police Sgt. with court officer duty.
      Last edited by big job; 06-10-2013, 08:55 AM.


      • #4
        LLC gives you no protection, it just makes it harder for someone to collect from you.
        It will cost you $25,000 to defend against a lawsuit using a lawyer so you get sued knowing that they will get $5,000 out of you to just go away.
        Your only protection is to own nothing - house in trust - equipment and cars owned by wife or trust. Welcome to the USA!
        Last edited by jep24601; 06-10-2013, 11:20 AM.
        "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"


        • #5
          Take cash only for the part. Then when they come question you, "What part? I didn't make that."


          • #6
            Originally posted by vpt View Post
            Take cash only for the part. Then when they come question you, "What part? I didn't make that."
            I don't know if lying, denying, or lack of evidence on your part works.


            • #7
              Okay, this is real interesting because i got sued! I built a machine that did not work well but someone wanted to buy it. I was working for a startup by a friend and gave it to him, no money. He sold it to the guy who wanted it for 10k. A year goes by and we both get served because someone got hurt on the machine. He is incorporated, and hasn't broken even yet. His lawyer says defense could easily cost 100k so close up and lawsuit goes away. I lose my job and have to hire my own attorney. No one wants the case, no pot of gold at the end of a defense! I find an attorney and he wants a financial statement! I tell him to bill me every day, I'lll pay him every day. When the money stops the work stops.

              The guy got hurt because they took all guards off. My lawyer deposed lots of people. EVERYONE lied in the depositions! Everyone except the guy who got hurt. His testimony revealed that he actually got hurt on a COPY of my machine! It was built as a mirror image. So I am off the hook right? 3 months goes by and my attorney comes to me with an 'offer' to settle for just 30k! I've already spent 15k, and I go ballistic. I tell him to write a letter to the judge and get me out because no lawyers are getting another dime! I'll spend myself into bankruptcy before the trial. The judge agrees I did nothing wrong and lets me out. The employer couldn't be sued because of workman's comp laws.

              I've since done several consulting jobs with the ultimate defense. I get payroll deductions and a W2, and they can't sue me.

              Be sure of one thing. When someone gets hurt everyoe gets sued. In the search for deep pockets or lots of people paying a little.


              • #8
                Be very careful here. Back in the 1960's my brother and I ran a fabrication shop in our home town. A local official, he was in charge of an LBJ job corps center in this part of the world, came to us to have a trailer hitch installed on his personal car, a 1964 Dodge sedan. In the negotiation stage he insisted that he was only going to use it to pull a small utility trailer with a lawn mower in it. We installed what was basically a bumper hitch on his car. Within two weeks we saw the car with a two horse trailer --- with two horses in it! --- hooked to it. The hitch didn't fail, we were lucky there, but we learned the lesson.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by beanbag View Post
                  I don't know if lying, denying, or lack of evidence on your part works.

                  What are you talking about? I didn't build anything.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by beanbag View Post
                    I don't know if lying, denying, or lack of evidence on your part works.
                    Isn't this what lawyers do/suggest routinely when they defend criminals?
                    WI/IL border, USA


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MichaelP View Post
                      Isn't this what lawyers do/suggest routinely when they defend criminals?

                      In all honesty, if your not going to lie about building the part to stay out of trouble when it comes, DON'T BUILD THE PART. No piece of paper is going to keep you out of trouble once that part leaves your shop.


                      • #12
                        It's been mentioned above that you should be working from a print. The print should show all domensions, tolerances, radii, finishes, hardness and materials to be used. With a print and having been incorporated (you did incorporate when you decided to make motorcycle parts, didn't you?), you will be better off when you are sued.

                        I say better off when you are sued, because the rule in the US anyway for who gets sued in products liability is anyone in the chain of commerce. That could be the designer, the material supplier, the owner of the machine and the machinist who made the part.

                        Anyone can be sued at anytime for anything by anyone. It may not stick, but it can cost you your house if the facts are right. YMMV
                        Last edited by GNM109; 06-10-2013, 12:10 PM.


                        • #13
                          Sorta along the lines of gary's horror story... I never understood what the damn purpose of incorporation is! I've seen first hand that when a lawsuit rears its head, the plaintiff always sues BOTH the business AND the individual. So, then, what is the point of a "Limited Liability Corporation" or even a full fledged "Incorporation"?? Supposedly, the explanation is they separate the individual from the business, but as I said, I've seen that simply not be the case -- or even if it is in some ├╝ber technical sense, it does not hold any practical weight in the resulting financial protection of the defendant.
                          (I apologize and know I'm not really advancing this thread...)


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Arthur.Marks View Post
                            So, then, what is the point of a "Limited Liability Corporation"..... [/SIZE][/COLOR]
                            According to my lawyer it adds obstacles to the collection of a judgement.
                            "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"


                            • #15
                              A neighbor asked me to design and build a rack to hold his four wheeler sideways on his full sized pickup. Sideways loading. As he was talking me mentioned that he jack-knifed his 28' trailer on a simple curve sliding sideways across both lanes of traffic. Luckily no one was coming so the damage was his alone. I envisioned his 'above the bed rails' four wheeler flying through the air hitting some small car full of kids and said NO - I don't want the liability.
                              So he went and bought a commercially built one. They made him watch a video on proper loading and sign off on it. First time- FIRST TIME - loading he over shoots the truck bed flies off the other side landing on concrete the four wheeler hitting him. Lucky to be alive and with permanent disability to his shoulder. I have never been so grateful to turn down work.

                              My advice see if you can stop the sale based on the unit being non road legal, not designed by an engineer, etc. Sue him for breach of contract - 'art' vs 'actual use'. Buy the parts backs or steal them. Product liability can last up to 20 years - check with a lawyer.

                              I turn down work on anything you ride or use on highways. It really is a big boys game, you don't sound like you are in that line of work big enough to buy insurance.

                              As to the incorporation protection. I believe you need to have enough insurance to cover the worst situation your product can cause and then have the corporation indemnify you. No there is no protection outside of insurance.

                              As to law suits. EXPECT people to lie under oath. I have learned this the hard way. You need to be able to prove everything yourself, without relying on someone else, especially if that person has something to loose, or wants to protect a friend. Only when you have complete irrefutable proof can you can expect the truth to be told.
                              Last edited by Abner; 06-10-2013, 11:49 AM.