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Can a customer sue a webmaster for lost web site sales?

Posted on 2005-03-21
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Last Modified: 2006-11-17
Hi,

I incredulously spoke to a customer who is accusing me of causing thousands of dollars of lost sales from his web site because he says the hits to his site dropped the day after I made changes to his site.  http://olypen.com/rdnelson

A local ISP referred this guy to me because he said somehow a link to a porn site got on his site.  He called me asking for an emergency web site change, which I made by basically correcting the link to the non-porn site he wanted linked to.  That was back in December 2004.  Today he calls me saying his site is full of typos since I touched the site.

He requested that I march down to his office (40 minutes away) and fix the problem.  He said he had the original source code to prove I made all kinds of changes to his site.  I KNOW I didn't.  I told him he could email me the original code and I'd be happy to upload it for him but I would not be willing to go to his office for a meeting and fix the problem onsite at no charge.  I stood firm about knowing I did not cause the lost sales to his site.

There were typos on his site when I worked on it but he didn't hire me to changes those so I only fixed the porn site link.  I think he's not being honest about him changing the site, or he had a previous webmaster that touched it before I fixed it or ???  The date of the filename appears to be the same as when I last touched it.  I don't remember what my final timestamp was to compare that.

Anyway, does anyone have any advice to give me?  I'm feeling like this guy doesn't have a chance but maybe I'm being naive.

Please help!
meels
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Question by:meels
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28 Comments
 
LVL 7

Assisted Solution

by:dxf224
dxf224 earned 240 total points
ID: 13596411
Try here .....http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://olypen.com/rdnelson     ...is that what you need?
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Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13596568
Wow, what am I looking at?  Does this show when index.htm was last touched?
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LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:dxf224
ID: 13596624
....I'm not a web guy   ....but I assume it indicates what the site was like on that date.   ...I've only just played around there, setting my google page to the original and stuff like that.
 

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LVL 33

Assisted Solution

by:humeniuk
humeniuk earned 240 total points
ID: 13596902
I'm no lawyer, but I don't think he has a case.  He would have to do quite a bit to prove that you made these changes and document actual losses in sales.  Having said that, the worst person to get sued by is someone who has a grudge because they don't use common sense.  A lawsuit would cost him money, but he might be willing to spend money to make a point.  And defending against a lawsuit, even a bad one, can be expensive.
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LVL 11

Accepted Solution

by:
phileoca earned 300 total points
ID: 13597126
his website sucks and is unprofessional anyway, i don't see what his problem is.

If he was honestly making so much money, he'd be able to afford to pay someone to make his site look real and not like a 4yr old made it.


anyway, did u charge him for the immediate website change?

he says he has the original source code, unfortunately he prolly doesn't have that original source code notarized which means he couldn't prove the date anyway. We're not "legally" allowed to offer you legal advice as it's called "practicing law without a license".

with the said, he can only take you to Small claims court, where lawyers aren't allowed, and you're forced to represent yourself.
Then with that you can bring up the point that his site must not be secure if a porn site link ended up on there and he claims it wasn't by him.
(which it probably was him looking at porn while editing his site.   He prolly left Frontpage open (view source code shows he was using frontpage), and he prolly accidentally dropped a link to that porn site in to his website, not realizing it).
so one of 2 things happened, someone changed his site, thus his site not being secure
or he was looking at porn.

If he tries to sue you based on lost web site sales, I tell you to go to court on your lunch break cause you will OWN him, in fact you should countersue for lost work time.

on top of that, you should take his email off his website, and register him for "free email" from various sources thus creating a pool of spam in his email.  we call those "fringe benefits"
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Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13597330
Thanks for all the great comments.  I am tempted to just let him sue me because I totally agree that he doesn't have a case.  Yes, his site sucks and right now I feel like he's trying to get some free work out of me to "fix" his site.  I fixed a web site link that was pointing to a porn site (somehow he says it got there?).  I charged a minimum half-hour work.  I offered to post his original source code but he refuses to send it to me.  He only wants to meet me in person in his office.  I've actually never met the guy because it was such a quick transaction over the phone.  I was done in about 10 minutes.  I also still don't get why he waited over 3 months to make such a big deal about it.  Why did he say he approved my work and send me a check?

Thanks for all your answers.  I'm not sure how I'm going to award points.  I feel like I want to split them amongst all of you.  I'll leave this open a little bit longer than close it.

Cheers,
meels
0
 

Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13597717
Me again...so here is his latest response:

"Im not interested in suing anyone, but if you wont meet with me and see what happened I have no other choice but to get it fixed and send you the bill along with all fees incurred. I dont know what you did but its obvious that the problem started after you accessed the site. You can help me fix the problem on your time and I will absorb the thousands of dollars in missed sales or you can get "something in the mail". Im easy to work with, just work with me........"

I KNOW my URL fix did not cause all of the problems he's talking about.  Doesn't it sound like he's trying to get more work out of me for free?  If he just wants it fixed why doesn't he email me the source code?  Just the travel time is almost 2 hours out of my day.  Maybe I'm just being stubborn but I really don't appreciate him ACCUSING me of causing his lost sales.  It would be one thing if he asked me to fix a problem he has.  If it turned out that the problem truly was caused by me (which it could not have been) then I would totally waive any fees.

I took this emergency job as a favor to this ISP that was swamped and I did it so quickly I didn't make this customer sign a contract, which includes a clause about me not being responsible for lost sales.  That is in there just as a boiler plate item, not that I ever thought anyone would actually go after me.  I guess it's a good lesson to use a contract for even the stupidest little web jobs!

ugh!
meels
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LVL 7

Assisted Solution

by:Burbble
Burbble earned 240 total points
ID: 13597770
I'm not sure if you caught this or not, so I guess I'll clarify:

The http://web.archive.org link that dxf224 provided contains saved copies of the site from older dates. For example, you can see that the page all the way back from December 2002 still has the same "Read one of our testimoianls" as the later pages.

I wouldn't worry, he doesn't have a chance.

Keep us posted on how it turns out.
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LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:dxf224
ID: 13597798
Yeah ..just e-mail him the dated links to the changed websites.   Maybe he's incredibly dumb when it comes to computers and one of his kids has been trying to help out. .....or he's a liar trying to scare you.  Either way, I don't see much point in trying to engage the guy in a rational discussion.    
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LVL 33

Expert Comment

by:humeniuk
ID: 13597801
Out of his own ignorance, he may actually think that you did cause the problem - and his comments clearly demonstrate an ignorance about websites.  I agree with phileoca - his site is not very impressive, I can't imagine how he's getting much in sales from it anyway.  It's also a one page site - why doesn't he just take 30 seconds and fix the typos?

In your position, I would probably talk to him on the phone to give him a chance to show you what he thinks you changed (you can each look at the site from where you are).  If it's easy to fix, I might fix it as a courtesy, but not if he's accusing you and threatening you.  Tell him that he clearly has no idea what he's talking about and that you'd be foolish to help him since the last time you did he ended up threatening you.
0
 

Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13597802
Burbble,

Thanks for explaining that.  I didn't get it until I read your post.  That's a cool site!  I wish it showed December 2004 but this is pretty good.

Thanks a ton!
meels
0
 

Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13598004
humeniuk,

originally we talked on the phone and i offered to restore his site to the original code and upload it ASAP but he insists that i go to his office so he can show me the before and after.  if he worked 10 min. away i might be more open to going to his office but 40 min. one way, and plus this guy is starting to creep me out, i prefer not to meet him at his office.  i prefer to just fix the site at my own desk.  plus, i don't have a lot of time to leave my computer for hours to help this threatening guy.

i'm going to let this sit for a day then decide what to do.  everyone's input has been really helpful,
meels


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LVL 13

Assisted Solution

by:gpriceee
gpriceee earned 240 total points
ID: 13598007
If he didn't completely backup his system while the issue existed--before you corrected it--he really shouldn't have a chance in court.  Anything could have occured, and logs could have been changed.  One of the most serious things an admin can destroy is a technical case by not creating a complete backup of a compromised or damaged system prior to making ANY changes.

You should feel pretty good about this one, but you might wish to look into technical liability insurance.  I know; it's a nasty word.
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LVL 33

Expert Comment

by:humeniuk
ID: 13598012
I agree, meels.  There's no reason to go to his office.
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LVL 7

Assisted Solution

by:Ai3d
Ai3d earned 240 total points
ID: 13602571
>I guess it's a good lesson to use a contract for even the stupidest little web jobs!<
You are absolutely right!
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LVL 11

Assisted Solution

by:phileoca
phileoca earned 300 total points
ID: 13603350
hey, seeing that he's never met you, you could hire a body builder to go over there, find somebody huge that belongs in the WWE, and send them over there.

Tell him, if he makes the guy wet his pants, you'll give him an additional 50 bucks. LOL
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LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:Ai3d
ID: 13604157
^lmao
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LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:Ai3d
ID: 13604165
I would recommend The Big Show ;-)
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Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13604350
you are all making me laugh!  i like sending the bodybuilder over.  okay, now, how should i award points on this?  i really feel like everyone has been super helpful and just really awesome sounding boards.

- meels
0
 

Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13604431
here's another response this morning:
"If I dont hear from you today Im proceeding with an alternative......."

i haven't responded to the email i shared with you all earlier in this thread, which he sent yesterday.  i'll offer to upload his original source code one more time otherwise it looks like being the president of my high school debate team and minoring in political science will come in handy.  

- meels
0
 
LVL 11

Expert Comment

by:phileoca
ID: 13605689
just split em however. =)

even steven?
0
 

Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13605899
i'll try to split all the points but i want to report back what ends up happening.  if i award the points does that automatically close this issue?  maybe the moderator can advise me on this?

meels
0
 
LVL 33

Expert Comment

by:humeniuk
ID: 13605921
If you 'close' the question, it will still be here for your review and you will still be able to post updates in it :)
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Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13606004
OK, I awarded and closed this question.  I just wanted to let you know I only awarded a "B" to everyone because I didn't end up getting any official legal advice from anyone that had specific experiences with this type of situation, which is what I was hoping to get originally, but I got great guidance from all of you.  By ignoring this guy I hope to call this guy's bluff but if it does get to court I will definitely let you know what happens.

Thanks for your help,
meels
0
 
LVL 33

Expert Comment

by:humeniuk
ID: 13606140
Good luck, meels.  Hope it works out.
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LVL 11

Expert Comment

by:phileoca
ID: 13606793
=) actually, you did get Legal advice. lol.

>>We're not "legally" allowed to offer you legal advice as it's called "practicing law without a license".



but make sure you report back, especially if you send a body builder down there to wet his pants.  Heck, if you film it, i'll host the video on my website. :-)
0
 

Author Comment

by:meels
ID: 13607001
phileoca,

sorry, i guess i did get legal advice but i originally wondered if there was some law protecting web designers or some precedented case i could reference to help me out.  one my customers in a private investigator, maybe i can get him to outfit the bodybuilder with one of those hidden cameras in a necklace.  i'll definitely send you the video! :-)

i'm hoping this continues to be a laughing matter.  i know i'm taking the risk of this turning really ugly but i'm just going to have faith in my work and the evidence i've racked up against him.

lol
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LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:Ai3d
ID: 13609063
Good Luck dude!
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