Document retention is the key
Every week the media publishes at least one news story about construction defect lawsuits, pending construction defect legislation, or changes in current state laws.
No matter what the laws are in your jurisdiction, the most weight in deciding a lawsuit is given to the credibility of the expert witnesses and documentation of the project. You can’t depend on just one of those elements: expert witnesses rely heavily on the project documents to form the opinions they offer as testimony.
It goes without saying then that your company should ensure the details of every aspect of your project are documented from start to finish. Equally important is retaining those documents for a sufficient period of time.
How long is long enough?
Too many companies have no formal document retention plan and either rely on “industry standards” (whatever that means) or have a that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-things attitude. Many construction firms retain documents for seven years before destroying them.
A better way to operate is to adhere to your state’s applicable statute of repose and statute of limitations. Base your company’s document retention plan on the timeframes of these statutes. Obviously, if someone can still file a construction defect lawsuit against your company, you should hang onto the documents needed to defend the case. You can’t predict if you’ll have defect allegations made against you in the future, so better safe than sorry.
Where should documents be stored?
Retaining paper files in not necessary if secure storage space is an issue. Digital imaging and storage services can assist with maintaining documentation safely in the cloud and/or on a protected server.
If, however, storage space is limited, the documents of most importance as evidence will be those that reflect contract requirements, occurrences during both the planning and construction phase(s), and documentation of changes made or problems that occurred from planning to completion.