We got a bill this weekend. It's from Southwestern Bell Telephone and it was for damage to a buried cable and it came out to $1,789.28. Of course they managed to forget that they didn't mark the cable in the first place which makes them liable for it's damage as well as our expenses.... Let me explain.
In TX, we have to notify a state office commonly referred to as "Dig TESS" before we excavate. We call them 48 hours before we dig and they notify all the companies that have buried lines in the city and those companies are required (by law) to go out and mark ALL of their lines that intersect with our proposed excavation within those 48 hours. After 48 hours we are allowed to proceed with the digging so long as we monitor the lines that have been marked. Usually this translates into finding the marked lines by hand and using the backhoe to dig the other portions of a trench (or whatever it is we're excavating). It's a fairly simple procedure (in theory), but the folks that do the locating are getting to be really sloppy. Most companies hire folks to go around and do the locates for them (or do most of the locates for them) and the folks they hire are real pros (in this case pro means an incompetent person being paid to do something and doing it ass backwards)
We've had them mismark lines by 6-8 ft (they are supposed to be within 2 ft), miss lines entirely (e.g. there might be 2 water lines and they only mark 1, often in the wrong place), and in this case just not bother to mark the line at all (within 48 hours) because the weather was bad and they didn't think anyone would be out there working that day.
So we lost about 6-7 hours of time for 2 crews that had to stand around waiting for the phone people to get out there and go "Golly gee, well you did hit that line, we meant to come out here, but we didn't think anyone would be working today" (it was a little damp and a little cool). The lost time etc... translates into about $800.00 that we hadn't billed them because we weren't entirely sure who to bill. Of course now that they've billed us for this, we are going to bill them for our stuff as well as refusing to pay what they claim we owe. This is where my job is fun. I get paid to make sure that we get what we want. Period. I don't have to be nice, and I don't have to be diplomatic. I just have to be paranoid, neurotic, and if necessary intimidating and get what we want. It works quite well actually. For the record though I do try to be diplomatic, but it's nice to know that I can also just dig my heels in and refuse to budge of certain issues and so long as I accomplish our goals it's all good. Oh, and I only do this in situations where we're right and someone is trying to make us pay for their screw ups (this happens a lot in construction, someone shafts one group so they shaft us and we are expected to shaft our client, except that usually we fight back on general principle... this is probably were I get my rabid idealism from)
I called the number that their bill so helpfully came with and explained the situation to the person handling this case. She's going to forward it to an internal investigator to see what's going on and they'll get back to us. For the time being we don't have to worry about it, but I feel somewhat vindicated in this case. See I've been insisting to my dad that we should get in the habit of photographing the various located lines around an excavation before we dig so that if there is a problem, we can produce some photos and say "Hey, you guys fucked up, look at this ____" In this case we didn't photograph before the excavation, but I took pictures of the marks that they made after the fact. Marking after the fact and billing us for the damage really pissed my dad off.
The guys that showed up when we called to report the broken line, showed up and marked where the line was (after we had so helpfully found it for them) and the idiots marked on top of the dirt piles that came out of the excavation. I got some good pictures of their locate marks going along on top of what we had already done. Those were the only marks that they made and I mentioned this to the person that I spoke to. This is probably going to drag on for a few more months. Considering that it took them 10 months to actually send a bill out, I can't help but wonder if that's part of their strategy. Perhaps they think that if they wait long enough, people won't have all the necessary information (like the Locate Request # that Dig Tess gives us) and they'll be unable to effectively argue the case. It's easy to prove that the line was damaged, but it's quite a bit harder to prove that they messed up and that it's their fault.
Photos help a lot and I think that I'll be able to convince my dad to take more pictures of stuff beforehand since that makes our life a lot easier. I will probably also try to get him a cheap/simple digital camera so that he can take more pictures and not spend so much on film (he's always been a big fan of Polaroids for work pictures, but those are kinda ridiculously expensive). So I was right and I resisted the temptation to point this out to my dad but I'm going to point this out in my journal because I can :).
I'm feeling pretty good. Now if only people would pay up so we could not be quite as broke, I'd be a very happy camper.