The hired gun of the Old West would work for a cattle rancher to chase off homesteaders or protect a widow. Today’s hired guns are for-profit experts that will say what you want for a fee. Their gunfight is litigation that either attacks or defends. Today’s mercenaries are not quick draws—instead, they present arguments and expertise on the issue of what is the defect and who is to blame. The complexity of construction makes this a growing field. Materials, systems and codes are far more complex and most errors are harmless and unintentional. Like the hired gun of the Old West who worked for the cattle baron to push out the widow, the hired gun does not care about what is just. He is simply paid to stop, detain or kill the opposition.
The second reason that hired guns are so popular is that contractors have not changed. Most contractors believe they already know all about their craft, the rules and how codes impact them. Hired guns can and do exploit that fact. Ultimately, the contractor’s insurance company must step in and retain a hired gun to defend them.
Because many contractors refuse education, the insured hired gun has a tougher job as subcontractors tend to be their own worst enemy. They tend to have strong personalities and it works against them in litigation. Like the Old West—when the stakes get higher—the other side just hires a better hired gun. (A simple rule is the more money that is at stake, generally the more expensive the hired gun.) Some have notable reputations.
Protection From Mercenaries
I have attended and given seminars intended to help contractors protect themselves from hired guns. Most classes are poorly attended and the few that show up often leave saying they learned nothing and it was a waste of time. Even if you learn just one thing, that bit of knowledge could keep you out of trouble, disarm a hired gun or provide ammunition for your insurance carrier and his hired gun.
Another benefit of educational seminars is you will encounter other contractors with similar experiences. A contractor once told me he learns more in the hallways with other contractors than in the actual seminar. I can attest to that being true and feel contractors can never be educated enough.
If a claim escalates with depositions and then goes to the courtroom, things get ugly. Contrary to the belief that the “fix” is in against contractors, it is knowledge and evidence that will most often win the day. I know because I was once a hired gun. I have worked for the cattle baron, as well as the lonely widow. If money is the indication of the status of the hired gun, my credentials are decent. Many of my cases were in the seven-figure range with my largest issue being a $56 million lawsuit. I also sat across the litigation table from another hired gun with a powerful reputation. I remember thinking, “Is this what a gun fighter felt after learning that his advisory was Wyatt Earp?” This hired gun just came from the litigation surrounding the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 and was well known. While I maintained my composure, I can assure you it was a bit daunting and I was certain that I had my work cut out for me. However, it is the evidence your contractor supplies you that often determines how fast you are on the draw.
At the World of Concrete STUCCO LIVE! Event in Las Vegas this February, a general contractor was certain he was wronged by his stucco contractor. He pretended to be looking for answers when in reality he was looking to find a hired gun. I reviewed his pictures and told him what I thought. He did not like my answer. He was looking for a hired gun who would fall in line: this is common and why I am no longer for hire.
Many will simply agree with you for a fee. Winning or losing generally depends on knowledge, education and evidence. Many count on the other hired gun not knowing the rules, codes or standards. Knowledge is power. Learning just one thing can help prevent the need for a hired gun or can arm your hired gun properly. Contractors should attend more educational classes as a simple but effective rule.
My duel with Wyatt Earp took several hours. He was good but so was I. I held my ground and at the end of that day, it was a draw. Encounters like this linger on your mind. I can tell the life of a hired gun is challenging and like the Old West, you may be fast but someone will always be a faster draw. You just have not met them yet.