How will Google Voice transform the construction industry?
Will it return construction to the days when deals were done with verbal agreements?
If we remove the threat of “misremembering” conversations, can we return to the civility of accepting verbal agreements knowing that they will now be treated as though they are in writing?
One of our recent postings discussed the legal ramifications of new means, methods and technologies that have been introduced over the past three years while many of our industry have been under-utilized. Another new entry that may have enormous impact is the introduction of Google Voice.
Google Voice is a service which provides you with “one incoming phone number” which will then be forwarded to one or many of your various telephone service numbers. For example, should you dial my Google Voice phone number, both my office phone and mobile phone will ring. Whichever is answered first will then be connected. I can program the service to also ring my home phone number for calls from my family, friends and selected clients. But the feature that will transform the construction industry is that if nobody answers, Google Voice answers the call and takes a message.
So what? Another answering machine.
But Google Voice then transcribes the voice message into text (with I have found a 90% accuracy) and forwards such as a text message to my mobile phone and as an email. If we are speaking and I wish to record our message, I merely press “4,” you receive an announcement that you are being recorded, and the remainder of our call is both verbally recorded and transcribed to text.
You may be aware that the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN, Pub.L. 106-229, 14 Stat. 464, enacted June 30, 2000, 15 U.S.C. ch.96) provides that an email, or even voice recorded in an electronic format, is a valid signature and may be the basis for finding a binding contract exists.
So now, you are walking the jobsite with an inspector who tells you to stop work in one area as “we expect to issue a change order in the near future.” You then phone her boss to confirm a “stop work order” reserving all rights relating to “preparation, mobilization and work to date, downtime until the crew and equipment can be redeployed, and any other expenses relating to this disruption including but not limited to potential delay to the project.” When you get back to the office, simply email a copy of the voicemail and transcript to the Engineer.
This is not to suggest an increase to litigiousness, but rather to streamline the documentation that can prevent disputes. Notice has been provided as required by the specification. Everyone understands that an order to stop work means a “Stop Work Order.”
Having removed the threat of “misremembering” conversations, we can return to the civility of accepting verbal agreements knowing that they will now be treated as though in writing.
ESIGN provides that parties may agree (in the specification) to not count verbal or email communication as legally binding. And the engineer can refuse to speak on the phone to confirm verbal direction. But then how can the Engineer prove you were given that verbal direction? Of course, all of the above is also applicable to verbal direction given by you to your subcontractors.
As noted above, I believe that arming the parties against “the big lie” will reduce disputes and litigation, and possibly even bring a return to civility on our projects.
Your thoughts would be appreciated.