I recently got my garage epoxied. After about a week, it started peeling off. I was wondering if I can sue the contractor as they aren't answering my calls or replying to my messages.

The reason I'm not fully sure about suing is that the contractors seemed young - maybe even under 18. Also, there was no written contract for the job, and the only information I have of them is their phone numbers.

Is it possible for me to sue an underage contractor?

(I'm in Ontario, Canada.)

  • 1
    Rules on such things will vary by jurisdiction: country and in federal countries state or province. Sep 14 '21 at 17:37
  • Are you aiming to recover the money you paid to them, or larger damages from having to remove and redo the paint job? The second one is much harder.
    – jpa
    Sep 15 '21 at 10:20
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    “no written contract”, “only information I have of them is their phone numbers” ... I guess you know now why these are important omissions.
    – Reid
    Sep 15 '21 at 14:57
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    @Reid They may make it harder to guarantee enforcement, but in many jurisdictions, contracts don't have to be written. Verbal contracts are very much a thing. What matters here is that two or more parties made an agreement and that one party relied on that contract's completion, to their own detriment. Well, and the fact that one of the parties of the contract may have been underage.
    – TylerH
    Sep 15 '21 at 19:22

Generally speaking, you have to disclose that the defendant is a minor in the complaint and their deadline to respond is tolled until the court has appointed a guardian ad litem for them. So, while it is possible, it is arduous.

Also, since someone below the age of eighteen can claim minority as a defense to an executory contract (as opposed to a contemporaneous exchange of goods or services for cash), and in some cases, to other contracts, you have a better shot at suing for malperformance and nonperformance of work.

Finally, even if you can sue, collecting a judgment from a minor, who is likely to lack both employment and any significant assets, is very challenging. A minor's legal guardians or parents would not be responsible for a judgment entered against a minor in these circumstances.

there was no written contract for the job and the only information I have of them is their phone numbers.

The lack of a written contract isn't a serious problem in a short job that was performed by both sides. You will need to be able to locate them to physically serve them with process to sue them. If you have their names, approximate ages, and the general vicinity of where they live or work, this isn't an insurmountable burden, but it is a bit of extra work that could turn out to be easy or could turn out to be a major obstacle.

  • If a judgment were issued in favor of OP for damages/restitution, I would expect the legal guardians of the minor to be on the hook for paying up.
    – TylerH
    Sep 15 '21 at 19:22
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    @TylerH Your expectations would be wrong. Parents are not vicariously liable for the breaches of contract and torts of their children except when specific exceptions apply, none of which are implicated in this case.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 15 '21 at 19:33
  • Due to the fact that an underage person can't legally consent to a contract (in this sense), no?
    – TylerH
    Sep 15 '21 at 19:42
  • @TylerH No. Not for that reason. There are circumstances in which minors can legally consent to a contract (e.g. contracts for necessities and certain contacts in connection with business transactions). But, even if there is contractual liability (or tort liability in these circumstances), the parents aren't vicariously liable. The main exception is the family car doctrine.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 15 '21 at 20:41
  • What if the parents agreed to the contract? I've always heard that, at least here in the US, the fact that the contractor is a minor is legally immaterial if the parents/legal guardians agreed to the minor being bound by its terms. In other words, if the parents/guardians agreed to the contract, it is enforced as if the contractor was legally emancipated (by either becoming a legal adult, or through a court-ordered emancipation)
    – moonman239
    Sep 15 '21 at 21:28

There are several issues here, but all of them are going to depend on the particular laws in the jurisdiction involved.

In many jurisdictions a person hired to perform a service, such as a contractor, must use professionally reasonable skill and care, and failing to do so is a breach of the contract, and may be grounds for a suit. Whether the peeling is due to lack of skill or care depends on specific facts not mentioned in the question.

You may want to get an opinion from a different reliable professional as to what it would cost to correct the problem.

In some jurisdictions a person who is not yet of legal age may cancel a contract. But in many of those a minor who cancels a contract because the person is under age must restore the other party to the situation as it was before the contract, such as by returning purchased goods. In this case that might involve returning a payment.

Moreover, such cancellation (known as "avoidance") is not automatic, the minor must explicitly cancel.

Also, in some jurisdiction a minor providing professional services may not cancel contracts related to those services. This most often comes up in regard to child actors and entertainers, I think.

Since there was no written contract a court would have to determine, as best as it can, what the terms of your agreement were.

Before you can even file a suit you will need to locate the other party, finding at least an address.

In short, there are many factors that might affect if such a suit would be successful. Those cannot be evaluates on this forum. You might be wise to consult a lawyer in your area who you can explain the full details to. The clerk of the relevant court may be able to describe basic court procedures, but probably cannot give legal advice.

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