How to Sue a Contractor in Virginia?

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 When Can I Sue a Contractor in Virginia?

Construction contracting in Virginia is a somewhat complicated business. In part, this is because contractors in Virginia are classified on the basis of the total value of a contract or of the contracts they conclude within a 12-month period.

These contractor classifications are as follows:

  • Class A Contractors: These contractors complete projects with a value of $120,000 or more, or their total annual project value is $750,000 or more;
  • Class B Contractors: These contractors complete projects with a value between $10,000 and $119,999, or their total annual project value falls between $150,000 and $749,999l
  • Class C Contractors: Those who perform projects with a value of from $1,000 to $9,999, or their total annual project value does not exceed $150,000.

Virginia law specifies different requirements for licensing and regulation for each class of contractor. A consumer may find out about their contractor’s license status and compliance with Virginia regulations at the website of the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.

Virginia law also specifies certain provisions that a construction contract must contain. A contract must give a detailed description of timelines for project completion, a description of the product the contractor should deliver, the schedule for payments, how progress is to be verified, and whether payments are tied to verification.

There may be different types of contracts, such as time and materials contracts and flat fee contracts. The form of contract used by a contractor and consumer for a given project would determine which type is used. Whatever the form, the mandatory clauses must be included in a Virginia contract for construction work.

What Are Some Legal Claims That Can Be Filed Against a Contractor?

When suing a contractor for poor workmanship, a person may have several possible courses of action, including the following:

  • File a lawsuit for breach of contract;
  • File a lawsuit for negligence;
  • File a lawsuit for fraudulent misrepresentation;
  • Seek compensation through the Virginia Contractor Transaction Recovery Act, which provides financial assistance to homeowners who suffer losses due to a contractor’s improper or dishonest conduct;
  • File a complaint against the contractor with the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR);

The DPOR is the state agency responsible for regulating contractors in Virginia. If a person has a dispute with a residential contractor, they have the option of filing a complaint with the DPOR. They would pursue a DPOR complaint in the following situations:

  • The contractor fails to complete the project as agreed;
  • The contractor performs substandard work;
  • The contractor abandons the project completely;
  • The contractor commits fraud.

The Virginia Administrative Code establishes the following regulations:

  • The standards of practice and conduct for contractors licensed by the DPOR’s Board for Contractors;
  • The grounds for disciplinary action against a contractor, which include fraud, deceit, negligence, incompetence, and non-compliance with applicable regulations, among other reasons;
  • The complaint process and investigation procedures;
  • The formal hearing process. If the Board determines that a hearing is necessary, the contractor and the complainant will be notified of the date, time, and place of the hearing.

Before filing a complaint with the DPOR, a person would want to try to resolve the issue with their contractor. If this effort does not succeed, a person can then go forward with the formal DPOR complaint.

A complaint submitted to the DPOR should be in writing and should include details about the alleged violation by the contractor. The Virginia Board for Contractors evaluates the complaint and decides whether an investigation should happen. If the Board decides that a hearing is necessary, the person who submitted the complaint and the contractor are notified of the date, time, and place of the hearing.

Can I Sue a Contractor Without a Contract?

If a person hires a contractor to perform construction work for the person, the person has made a contract with the contractor. The contract may not be in writing, but a contract can be perfectly valid even if it is not in writing. Contracts may be oral. Contracts do not even have to be expressed in words, orally, or in writing. They may be implied by circumstances, although that is unlikely in the situation in which a person hires a contractor.

It is important to keep in mind that for a residential construction project in Virginia, there should be a written contract and it should contain certain provisions as specified above.

However, even if a person does not have a written contract with their contractor, it is probably the case that they have an oral contract. That is because they talked about the project that the contractor was hired to complete, even though they did not express their understanding in writing. This is enough to create a valid oral contract.

It is important to note that when hiring a contractor, a person should insist on a written contract that contains the provisions mandated by Virginia law. As noted above, a legally adequate contract in Virginia would specify the timelines for project completion, a description of the product the contractor intends to deliver, the schedule for payments, how progress is to be verified and whether payments are tied to verification. Other provisions are required as well.

Putting a contract into written form helps prevent misunderstandings and is also helpful if there is a dispute, especially one that ends up in a court of law. It is much easier to prove the terms of a contract that is in writing than it is to prove the terms of an oral contract.

If a person is hiring a contractor to do a job that is substantial, they would want a local attorney in Virginia to review their contract and possibly to draft it for them.

How Do I Sue for Breach of Contract?

Even if a person wants to sue a contractor on a traditional theory of breach of contract or negligence, they would still attempt a resolution through negotiation before filing a lawsuit against the contractor. This is standard in the case of any lawsuit.

One of the options is to try to negotiate a settlement. Another option would be to try an alternative dispute resolution procedure, e.g., mediation, with the contractor. Of course, if none of these options are successful, then a person would have to think about going to court.

A person can sue for up to $5,000 in the small claims division of a district court in Virginia. There are no attorneys in small claims court, so this saves on costs. If a person seeks damages of more than $5,000, they would file their complaint in a Virginia general district court. They would probably want to be represented by an attorney in a general district court.

If a person plans to sue a contractor, their first step is to gather all evidence they have that supports their claim. This would encompass all of the evidence noted above. It is also important to document any damages that were caused by the contractor’s breach of the contract.

To file a lawsuit against the contractor, a person would need to prepare a complaint. Filing the complaint with the clerk of the court and serving the complaint and a summons on the defendant contractor officially begins a lawsuit.

A person would have to select the court in which to sue. A person can sue for up to $10,000 in a small claims court in North Carolina. People with claims above that limit should file in a district court or a superior court. In North Carolina, district courts handle cases that seek between $10,000 and $25,000 in damages. Superior courts handle cases that seek over $25,000 in damages.

When a person decides to sue a contractor for breach of contract they must first prove that a construction contract existed in the first place. This may be more difficult if the contract is oral but it can be done. In preparation for filing a claim for breach of contract, a person would want to gather together all evidence they have of the agreement they had with their contractor.

A person would want to have any evidence of communication between them and their contractor, such as emails and text messages, as well as invoices, receipts, canceled checks and any written notes that do exist. If the person has a written contract, of course, it would be key evidence in their case.

After proving that the parties had a contract and what its terms were, a person must prove that the contractor failed to perform as promised in the contract. This would entail proving that the contractor’s performance was in some way deficient or sub-standard. A person would have to prove what level of performance was required under the contract and the way in which the contractor failed to deliver.

Finally, to succeed with a claim for breach of contract, a person must prove that they suffered a measurable economic loss as a direct consequence of the contractor’s failure to perform as required by their contract.

It is vital to collect all this important information before a person and their attorney undertake a lawsuit against a contractor for breach of contract. In some cases, the contract may state the steps a party should follow if the other party fails to perform as required.

How Much Does It Cost to Sue a Contractor?

It is impossible to say how much it would cost to sue a contractor. The answer is going to depend on a number of things. If a person hires an attorney to represent them, the cost would depend largely on how much the attorney charges and how much time the attorney must spend working on the case before it is resolved. That is because an attorney is likely to charge an hourly fee for their service in a case against a contractor.

In addition, a person may well have to hire an expert witness to testify about the contractor’s performance, what the industry standards are, and whether the contractor’s performance was unworkmanlike or substandard. This would add to the cost.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Contract Disputes?

The statute of limitations in Virginia for breach of contract is within 4 years after the right of action arises or within 1 year after a breach is or should have been discovered. As with all legal claims, it pays not to delay and to take action as soon as possible so as not to forfeit rights.

Do I Need an Attorney for Suing a Contractor?

If you have received substandard work from a residential construction contractor, you want to consult a Virginia contract lawyer as soon as possible. can quickly connect you to an experienced lawyer in your area who can analyze your case and tell you if you have a case for breach of contract against your contractor. Your lawyer can represent you and guide you to a successful outcome.

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