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Indiana Court of Appeals: Contractor’s Failure To Comply With Home Improvement Contracts Act Precluded Recovery of Attorney’s Fees

In First Response Services, Inc. v. Vincent A. Cullers, the Indiana Court of Appeals denied a contractor’s argument that even though it failed to comply with the Home Improvements Contact Act (“HICA”) it should still be entitled to recover its attorney’s fees under the contract.

Facts: The Cullers hired First Response to perform water restoration services when their sump pump malfunctioned and caused their basement to flood. First Response removed the wet carpet and provided several pieces of drying equipment in the basement. After several days, the Cullers demanded the drying equipment be removed and offered to pay $1,200 for the services.  First Response demanded $7,722 for the work performed.

Prior to starting the work, First Response had the Cullers sign two documents, which failed to meet the requirements of HICA.  The documents failed to include a reasonably detailed description of the proposed home improvements, the home improvement contract price, and the start and completion dates.

First Response filed a complaint for breach of contract and unjust enrichment and for its attorney’s fees.  At trial, the court found that First Response was entitled to $3,780 in damages, but it was not entitled to recover its attorney’s fees.

Decision: The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The  court found that the purpose  of  HICA  is  to  protect  consumers  by  placing  specific  minimum requirements on the contents of home improvement contracts because few consumers are knowledgeable about the home improvement industry; and the contractor therefore is held to a strict standard.  The court opined that it cannot have been the intent of the legislature to allow a company to circumvent the strict requirements of the statute.  Because the contractor failed to comply with the requirements of HICA, First Response was not entitled to recover attorney fees pursuant to the terms of the contract.

By: Roy Rodabaugh

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