My question involves independent contractors in the state of: California
I'm a licensed contractor, running a VERY small business, managing vineyard in Napa Valley. A client changed her phone number and moved, without letting me know. 6 months later I have tracked her down and asked for her billing information, whereby she notified me that she had sold the property. We have a contract saying that the relationship may be dissolved at any time with a 30 day written notice, which I never recieved.
She was pretty nasty about the whole thing, wouldn't tell me when she had sold, said she felt as if she had paid enough over the years, even though I have payroll and insurance costs that pertain to her property, etc....even though I notified her that I wouldn't hold her responsible for billings after it sold, etc. During our conversation, she let slip where she was living now - on a horse ranch that she had developed a few years previous - so I was able to get an address from the phone book and sent an invoice.
I have a feeling that she isn't going to pay, since during our conversation, she said that she would have her bookeeper give me a call on "Monday", about March 25th. Several days passed, and no call. That's when I sent the invoice, April 1st. Still no call, even though I wrote in an accompanying letter that I should be called if there are any questions.
This is no small deal to me, about $24k, which would total more than the net profit I made from her during the 6 years I manged the property for her.
My question is - is this an amount that the district attorney would be interested in? Does this meet the criteria for a felony charge? If it is, I want to use this as leverage to get her to pay up. She's well off financially.
I also need to be prepared to get legal help. So what is the common rate for a lawyer to want, %age-wise that a lawyer would want to take this case? She'd have to hire a lawyer also to defend her presumably, so maybe I could make an offer to deduct 10-15% or so to save us both the expense and hassle. Expediency is also a concern for me.
And if she refuses to negotiate or is unreasonable, could punative damages be sought?
Thanks for any help/advice