Legal Lottery? Time to Vacate Occupied Construction

I am finishing up a three-month complete kitchen remodel at my house and have had my fill of the chaos, clutter, and disarray. If you have ever remodeled the most used room in your house, you know what I’m talking about. It got so bad the other night that I was accused of displaying male menopause behavior. While I have been complaining about the endless hours of work and the omnipresent dust, it made me think about the challenges we have in performing construction work on occupied buildings. I would submit that restoration work on occupied buildings is becoming increasingly more challenging for the construction team. What was once a common practice is now complicated by legal battles and exorbitant costs to accommodate the occupants. Unfortunately, I think our days of working on occupied commercial buildings are soon to come to an end.

Since Re-View specializes in restoring historic windows on national landmarks across the country, we have a great deal of background in working on occupied structures. Over the past ten years, we have seen a dramatic increase in conflict related to the work being performed. The construction process affects the atmosphere of an occupied environment. In addition to the noise and displacement associated with construction, occupants are subjected to dust resulting from activities like masonry restoration, demolition, and plaster repair. Fumes from new materials, finishes or adhesives also cause an invasion of foreign material. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the impacts of particulates, biological materials and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Terms like Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) are becoming commonplace. Other terms such as mesotheliomaand silicosis [ are becoming known to the general population. The effects of mold were well documented in the 90’s. Basically, advertising by attorneys and the proliferation of material on the internet has made the general public very well informed on all the dangers associated with occupied construction work.

It’s hard to find someone who is not familiar with the growth of all types of litigation over the past thirty years. Cases such as the McDonalds coffee lawsuit, tobacco litigation, and new forays into suing purveyors of junk food are universally known. Children are even suing their parents these days. One of the fastest growing segments in the advertising industry is the legal field. The proliferation of radio, television, and billboard advertising for legal services over the past ten years is staggering. What this means is that your construction project can easily become fodder for the next big legal revenue opportunity.

While the legal field has been ramping up its efforts to drum up business, there has been a change in mentality of the typical American. There is a growing segment of our population that has become conditioned to the concept of getting something for nothing. The rampant rise in gambling is a direct result of this shift in mentality. Opportunists see frequent examples of people scoring million dollar awards at the local casino and read about the latest Powerball or Mega Millions winners. This behavior has also given birth to what is called the legal lottery where people are using lawsuits to score their next windfall.restoration work on occupied buildings is becoming increasingly more challenging for the construction team

What does this mean to the construction industry? If you are an owner, architect, general contractor, or supplier you are in the cross hairs of this trend and it is only getting worse. There are things that can be done to mitigate exposure such as more efficient containment, training, testing, and stricter project management. New developments in low VOC finishes and materials are a positive development. If matters continue to get worse, however, the renovation of occupied spaces may become a thing of the past.


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