In today’s episode we talk about an innocent mistake a freelancer made that resulted in a client’s database being deleted. This lead to a threat of legal action against the freelancer. We’ll talk about preventive measures to ensure client work is kept safe and how insurance could help.
“I recently moved a client’s website to their own hosting. The hosting company migrated the website, so I deleted the old website from my server. Unknown to me the database hadn’t been moved successfully and it’s now destroyed."
"I have no back up. Neither does the hosting company. Now the client has threatened me with legal action. Have I done something illegal?"
"Lesson learned. Always keep backups and have a contract.”
Keeping backups and having a contract shouldn't be the only lesson learned. Being insured would have been useful in this scenario because of the legal threat, but we'll get into that later.
This freelancer has asked, “Have I done something illegal?”. You don’t have to do something illegal to upset a client and have them threaten you with legal action.
As a freelancer, you have a responsibility to provide a service to a client. In this case the client was expecting their migration to go smoothly. When the migration didn't go smoothly, the blame fell on the freelancer.
Irrespective of who is at fault here—whether it’s the freelancer for not having a backup or the hosting company—in our experience the blame usually falls on the freelancer.
The client is expecting something from you and if you don’t meet those expectations there can be a number of problems. Sometimes the client relationship breaks down, other times there’s a threat of legal action, and sometimes a client tries to recover compensation.
In this case the client is expecting the freelancer to oversee the migration, or they’re holding them accountable because the migration might have happened on the advice of the freelancer.
Let’s start with the obvious thing. You should be ensuring your client’s work is safe.
Considering we’ve had similar claims to this story, it’s obvious some freelancers do take liberties with backups. I think it might take a scary situation to happen before you realise you’re playing with fire if you don’t regularly backup work.
Backups should be a basic part of your workflow. We'll dedicate an entire Unsure? Insure! episode to this in the future (it has been requested before) and we’ll see what practices other freelancers follow. For now I’ll highlight a couple of tools you should have on your radar:
- Backblaze, which is a low cost cloud backup and storage service
- SnapShooter, which allows you to schedule frequent backups for servers, websites and databases
- Arq, which is backup software for your Mac or Windows PC
It sounds like this freelancer didn’t have a contract. Contracts are useful for outlining the responsibility of both parties.
With the freelancer hosting client data, they should have terms that outline who is responsible for backups. In the event a client moves their website to another host, they should have terms around how long they’ll keep the data for (data will be kept no more than however many days or weeks as specified in your terms).
Having those terms agreed in a contract is good for both parties because there’s a lot of clarity. There’s no confusion around what to expect or do in those situations because it's spelled out in black and white.
If expectations aren’t met there is a potential breach of contract claim. However, that’s something your insurance could potentially assist you in defending.
Which brings me onto the subject of insurance. If you make a mistake in your work, which leads to a legal threat or demand for compensation, professional indemnity insurance would be the product that could potentially help you.
With this situation there isn’t any claim for compensation just yet, but the client has threatened to sue the freelancer. If covered under the policy, the insurer would appoint legal experts to negotiate the outcome with the client and prevent it from escalating further.
You can think of being insured as having a law firm on retainer. If you weren’t insured you’d have to seek expensive legal advice, or ask other freelancers what they would do in your situation—which doesn’t always yield the best advice!
Being insured gives you access to legal experts at a low, monthly cost. And if the legal experts reach a negotiation with your client involving compensation, the cost of that will also be picked up by the policy.
Insurance doesn’t bring back the deleted database. Insurance doesn’t prevent bad things from happening, but it helps you navigate difficult situations when they do arise.
To recap, here are some things to consider if you host client data:
- You don’t have to do something illegal to upset a client and have them threaten you with legal action. Most of our claims are due to mistakes a freelancer makes, or clients who aren’t unhappy with the service or quality of work
- We’ll do a meatier episode about backups in the future, but backups should be a basic part of your workflow. Backblaze, SnapShooter and Arq are good places to start for services that help you keep client data safe
- Make sure you have terms in place that outline the responsibilities of both parties. It means that when situations like this do arise, you know exactly what’s expected of you and how to deal with it to avoid messy situations
- Professional indemnity insurance is the policy that would help you if you made a mistake in your work that could lead to a legal threat. Whilst professional indemnity doesn’t help you recover the deleted database, it does give you access to legal experts that can help negotiate with your client