A Case With Forgery

Submitted by:  J. Jay Safier, CPA, CBMA, CFF

I was involved in mediating a case with the following situation:

Customer had hired a retail home improvements company (“Company”) to make extensive modernizations of the kitchen and main bathroom in the Customer’s residence. The terms of payment required a modest deposit with most of the cost being paid after the work was done to the Customer’s satisfaction and the final inspection document had been signed by Customer. Over the course of time the work had been found to be unsatisfactory and problems arose during and immediately after the construction was considered completed. The Company repeatedly sent personnel to make the necessary repairs and corrections. However, the Customer was still dissatisfied and ended up hiring a second, independent contractor to finish the job. This meant tearing up some of the original new construction and replacing it. The Customer paid the second contractor almost as much as the outstanding balance still due to the Company. The Company persisted in billing Customer for the unpaid balance and now interest was accruing on it. Customer brought suit against the Company to stop the billing, indicating that the work had been unsatisfactory and that a second contractor was brought in to fix all of the problems. Documentation was also presented in the form of invoices from the second contractor to substantiate the extra costs Customer had incurred. The case was sent for mediation.

Prior to the mediation conference I had requested the attorneys from both sides to submit mediation statements. They did so and included exhibits believed to strengthen their respective positions. Included with the documents from the Company’s attorney was a signed inspection document indicating approval of the work performed. After reviewing them I had determined how I wanted to proceed during the mediation and it was going along to a point where I thought a break was in order. Just as we were going to break I casually posed the following question to the Customer: “If you had so many objections to the work that was done, why did you sign the final inspection document acknowledging that you had walked through the work sites and found everything acceptable?” The Customer asked to see the document and upon looking at it said, “This is not my signature.” We did not take the break and instead I asked the Company’s attorney to respond to the statement. The attorney indicated that he could not because a review of the Company’s employees’ records for the date shown on the document revealed that no one from the Company had been at the Customer’s house that day.

I requested the attorneys to meet with me privately at which point I reviewed the potential alternatives with the Company’s attorney. I indicated that I could stop the mediation and send the case back to the court to pursue the forgery matter. If such a piece of news got into the press it would provide bad public relations for his client. Alternatively, he might want to discuss the matter with the owner of his client and see if the limitation on the amount offered to close the case might be increased and then his client could handle the investigation of the forgery internally. As a result of the phone call the Company agreed to cease all claims for the balance of the original contract and also agreed to pay the Customer’s legal fees in connection with this matter.

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Author:
I. Jay Safier, CPA, CGMA, CFF
Safier Mediation Center, LLC
Fair Lawn, NJ