Stuck Between Contractors in Dispute

Quick rundown before my question.

  • We own equipment at another company’s location and contract with them to operate that equipment as needed to produce material for us. We don’t own the property, don’t employ the people, just own and maintain the equipment and contract for the work.

  • We hired one contractor to install some new oil fired boilers for us at this site, one of which was replacing an obsolete one that still had connections to the oil tank.

  • We hired a second contractor to finish just the electrical connections and do the startup for the boilers.

The situation became problematic when contractor 2 showed up, two days after the installation was complete, they discovered oil leaking from the return oil line between the pump and the oil tank. They claim the pipe was just cut and there was no connection to the pump (they provided pictures) and it appears that way. So the oil tank was just gravity feeding out trickling during that time.

Contractor 1 says there is no way they didn’t connect that pipe and that this happened because of something contractor 2 did and they aren’t being honest.

Contractor 2 says they found it that way when they first showed up before they even touched anything.

Environmental cleanup is underway, or done at this point, but that bill is going to come and I can guarantee no one is going to willingly take responsibility for this. Up to now, day 2 of my being made aware of the situation that occurred on Friday, I have been acting as middleman between these two just trying to get the stories straight and figure out what happened. I’m not convinced I’m getting the whole truth, but I don’t really have much to go on other than what I’m being told by contractor 1, contractor 2, and the people who work at that site who were there.

My question is, is it reasonable for me to point them to each other and step away? Or do we need to remain in the middle since they are both hired by us on this job?

You need the advice of a lawyer. It is possible they are both telling the truth. Somebody other than Contractor 1 or 2 could have cut the pipe.

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Thanks. I’m going to give it a little bit more time while I finish gathering information from each party and hopefully this will resolve itself as it becomes clearer. If not, that advice will probably be the way to go unfortunately.

No matter how much you want to step away from the issue, you can’t. Your company brought these three, not two, parties to the table, and you are the company’s rep. Is this area under camera surveilance? Depending on what you find, maybe it should be, and the recording equipment needs to be under your control. Can you match the cut pipe to someone’s hack saw/sawsall? There are people who can do that. If the story doesn’t come out soon, bring in your company’s forensics investigator/security people.

In an earlier job, I brought in our security people who matched a cut belt and scratched roller on a belt flaker to a person’s utility knife. We busted him, and fired him. Three years later, he came back through arbitration. That did not set right with me personnally, but it was the rules the company agreed to decades ago.

I think involving the company’s contractor purchasing rep would be wise. It puts future work with these companies on the line!

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Well today’s start was a surprise. Contractor 1 admitted that it is likely they didn’t reconnect the pipe at the end of the install. They do still contend that Contractor 2 should’ve caught the mistake and that the oil leak could have only happened if the pump was initiated since that is an inlet pipe for the oil tank and it would’ve required siphoning to have leaked out from that spot. So at least partial responsibility is being taken so far.

Timestamps from the photos Contractor 2 took at the scene are within 30 minutes of their arriving, so I don’t think that would’ve been enough time for them to do the electrical work and release the amount of oil that spilled. The saga continues, but with a bit clearer of a picture than before.

Excellent, I would much rather deal with human error, than with nefarious acts and people.