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Who to sue: contractor or subcontractor?

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We purchased an old country home that needed significant work. Part of this work involved demolishing a number of semi-derelict outbuildings including what was the chapel, the old mill and stables. The wall of one of these outbuildings - the mill - was attached to the main house.

We paid a heavy machinery firm around £9,000 to demolish these outbuildings. As part of their service, they specified on their quote/ invoice that they would subcontract
the cutting of the mill wall to another firm of builders (the firm we contracted would then use their bulldozers to demolish the wall when cut). We learnt after the fact that the "builders" were cowboys, friends of theirs and had never done anything like this in their lives.

We were not at the property when the wall was cut but understand, from the frantic phone calls the cowboys made to us after the fact, that they cut the mill wall in the wrong place and damaged the main house. A huge structural crack appeared, we had to employ a structural engineer and carry out urgent remedial work to the tune of £4k.

We sent a letter of demand to the demolition firm we paid, and their defence is two-fold: 1) nothing to do with them because they didn't do the cutting 2)  we should have known the risks. He ended his letter with SEE YOU IN COURT (yes, capitalised!).

My position is 1) they chose and employed the subcontractor 2) we had no contract with the subcontractor and did not even know how much they had been paid 3); subcontractor and main company should have used reasonable skill 4) by undertaking the work they accepted responsibility that it would be done properly.

Do I have a case in law? From looking at Companies House and Google, the director of the firm we contacted with has a history of making himself bankrupt when sued. However, his limited company is turning over a tidy sum ( £500k/yr) and I imagine he has insurance. The firm of cowboys, in contrast, seem to have very little in the way of assets.

I would be representing myself in court.

Thanks so much

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You would see your main contractor in contract.

If there was a negligence issue then you might want to see the subcontractor – but you are best off proceeding in contract.

I understand that the value of the claim would be about £4000. Of course already you have identified a problem of enforcing the judgement against a company which apparently routinely Phoenixes itself. That is a real problem.

What is the name of the contractor and what is the name of the subcontractor?

You say that they have form for winding up their companies and then starting new ones. How often has this happened in the past?


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He's a brute and thug, so I'd be wary of putting the name of his firm or that of his cronies online, until we win and then I'd plaster it everywhere. 


He's disappeared/gone bankrupt/dissolved his company 4 times that I can see. Apparently an open secret in the community but we've just moved and didn't know. 


We're in Scotland (just moved from England). Not sure if this makes a difference?


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I think you are wrong. You should be exposing his name and his company as hard as possible because that is an excellent defence and also an incentive to him.
It will be difficult to help you fully – particularly in relation to enforcement if we don't have the information we need.

You need to start collecting information about his bankruptcies et cetera and why he has done this. If you say that people in the community know about it then you should start talking to them.

Being in Scotland can make a big difference to the claim system you use – unless you have an address in England. What is not clear is whether the contract was made in Scotland or in England

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