WAIVER OF CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES AND LOSS OF USE DAMAGES (IN CONSTRUCTION / DESIGN DEFECT DISPUTE)

imagesIn construction / design defect cases, a plaintiff (party proving defect) may assert a category of damages referred to as loss of use damages.  Importantly, if your contract includes a waiver of consequential damages, these types of damages will not be recoverable.  This is a significant issue to consider when entering into a construction contract, especially when you are the owner of the project, because if you do not want to waive a party you hire of consequential damages (such as loss of use damages), then you do not want to include a waiver of consequential damages in your contract or, at a minimum, you want to carve out exceptions to the waiver of consequential damages.  Stated differently, this is an issue and risk you want to consider on the front end because even though construction / design defects are not anticipated, they do occur.

 

In a construction / design defect scenario, an owner’s consequential damages would generally be those damages unrelated to repairing the defect.  For instance, loss of use of the property or lost rental income to an owner during the implementation of the repairs would be a consequential damage that would be waived by a waiver of consequential damages provision in an owner’s contract.

 

An example of a waiver of consequential damages provision found in the AIA A201 (general conditions of the construction contract between an owner and contractor) is as follows:

 

The Contractor and Owner waive Claims against each other for consequential damages arising out of or relating to this Contract. This mutual waiver includes

.1  damages incurred by the Owner for rental expenses, for losses of use, income, profit, financing, business and reputation, and for loss of management or employee productivity or of the services of such persons; and

.2  damages incurred by the Contractor for principal office expenses including the compensation of personnel stationed there, for losses of financing, business and reputation, and for loss of profit except anticipated profit arising directly from the Work.

This mutual waiver is applicable, without limitation, to all consequential damages due to either party’s termination in accordance with Article 14. Nothing contained in this Section 15.1.6 shall be deemed to preclude an award of liquidated damages, when applicable, in accordance with the requirements of the Contract Documents.

(See AIA A201-2007, s. 15.1.6)

 

Now, if loss of use damages are not contractually waived, the recent decision in Gonzalez v. Barrenechea, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D258a (Fla. 3d DCA 2015), illustrates how an owner can recover these types of damages when there is a construction / design defect.  In this case, an owner sued its architect for design errors with the HVAC system in a newly constructed home.  The owner was forced to engage a new design professional to address the deficiencies.  It took the owner 20 months to repair the deficiencies during which the owner claimed he could not live (or use) his new house.  Although the owner did not live in the house, there was evidence that the owner had some use of the house.  For instance, the owner’s son slept in the house on an intermittent basis, the owner docked his boat at the dock behind the house, furniture was stored in the house, and the owner had cars parked in the garage.

 

Notwithstanding some use of the house, the owner put on testimony of an expert real estate appraiser that testified that the owner incurred lost rental value of approximately $15,500 per month during the 20-month repair period.  The architect argued that this rate was flawed because the expert failed to factor in the use the owner had of the house during the 20-month period.  The trial court agreed and denied the owner the loss of use damages.

 

The Third District Court reversed the trial court finding that the owner was entitled to loss of use damages:

 

Under Florida law, a homeowner that loses the use of a structure because of delay in its completion is entitled to damages for that lost use. Florida courts have held that “[d]amages for delay in construction are measured by the rental value of the building under construction during the period of delay.”

Gonzalez, supra, quoting Fisher Island Holdings, LLC v. Cohen, 983 So.2d 1203, 1204 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008).

 

Furthermore, because the architect failed to put on any evidence as to what the rental value of the house should have been during the 20-month period factoring in the owner’s use of the house during this period, there was nothing to refute the owner’s rental rate.

 

This case touches upon important take-aways:

 

  • Consider the risk of a waiver of consequential damages provision on the front end, especially if you are an owner.  Likewise, if you are a contractor or design professional, you want to consider the risk of not having such a waiver of consequential damages.
  • Loss of use damages are recoverable in a construction / design defect case absent a contractual waiver of consequential damages.
  • An owner can introduce evidence of loss of use damages through an expert real estate appraiser that can testify as to the rental rate of the property during the repair period.
  • A contractor or design professional defending a loss of use damages claim should engage its own expert to counter an owner’s expert.  In this case, if the design professional had an expert real estate appraiser, it would have put on evidence of a rental rate much lower than the $15,500 per month factoring in the owner’s limited use of the house during this time period.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOST PROFIT AND LOSS OF USE DAMAGES

ProfitSharingLost profits are a type of damages that are sometimes thrown around in a litigation.  However, these damages are very difficult to establish and prove and they really require expert testimony.  If the theory to recover lost profits is speculative, or the way the lost profits is measured is speculative, they will not be recoverable.  (Typically, lost profits require a history of profits to measure against and/or establishing the profitability of another business using a substantially similar business model for comparative purposes).  Lost profit damages have a difficult burden of proof in order to avoid the argument that they are speculative in nature.

 

Loss of use is another type of damages that is often confused with lost profit damages. Loss of use damages is generally the rental value of property / fair market value due to the loss of use of that property. See B&B Tree Service, Inc. v. Tampa Crane & Body, Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly, D970a (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) citing MD. Cas. Co. v. Fla. Produce Distribs., Inc., 498 So.2d 1383 (Fla. 5th DCA 1986) and Meakin v. Dreier, 209 So.2d 252 (Fla. 2d DCA 1968).  Hypothetically speaking, this type of damage can come into play if an owner is trying to recoup the rental value of units / fair market value of units that are out of service due to a defect, i.e., water intrusion problem.

 

There is a better argument for an owner under Florida caselaw to testify as to loss of use damages than lost profits, although with both types of damages, a qualified expert is preferential. “An owner is qualified to testify to the value of his property based on a presumed familiarity with the characteristics of the property, knowledge or acquaintance with its uses and purposes, and experience dealing with it….An owner must be shown to have knowledge regarding the property and its value sufficient to qualify him.” B&B Tree Service quoting Craig v. Craig, 982 So.2d, 724, 729 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (internal quotations omitted). The key is the owner’s familiarity with the property and value to support his opinion testimony regarding loss of use damages.

 

Understanding the differences between lost profit damages and loss of use damages, as well as the ways to prove such damages, is important if these are damages a party is looking to recover. Not understanding the burdens of proof for these types of damages can be fatal to recovery or can lead a party to an unrealistic method of thinking during the course of a case and prevent the party from entertaining reasonable settlement offers.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

SUPPORTING CONSTRUCTION DEFECT DAMAGES WITH AN ESTIMATE

33758031One of the issues in construction defect disputes is whether the owner can prove damages with an estimate, which is often the case. Recently, in Kritikos v. John T. Anderson d/b/a Anderson Builders, et al., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D931a (Fla. 4th DCA 2013), the Fourth District Court of Appeals confirmed that an estimate as to the costs to repair construction defects can support a plaintiff’s (owner) damages. In other words, the plaintiff does not actually have to incur the costs to repair in order to be entitled to recover damages to correct a construction defect.

 
In this case, the contractor recorded a construction lien. The owner asserted, as a defense, that it is entitled to set-off the amount of the lien due to construction defects and delay-related damages. (The owner in this case ended up terminating the contractor when the project was substantially over budget and behind schedule.) It was the owner’s position that the defective work was subject to a design change so the measure of damages needed to be based on an estimate of what it would cost to complete the work (i.e., repair the defects) according to the original design / contract. The owner’s argument, as supported by the Fourth District, was based on precedent discussing an owner’s measure of damages when there is a construction defect, particularly the Florida Supreme Court decision of Grossman Holding Limited v. Hourihan, 414 So.2d 1037 (Fla. 1982) and the Second District Court of Appeals’ decision of Temple Beth Shalom & Jewish Center, Inc. v. Thyne Construction Corp., 399 So.2d 525 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981).  Both the cases of Grossman and Temple Beth Shalom maintain that the measure of damages when dealing with construction defects / unfinished construction contract is the reasonable cost to complete / repair per the original design / contract provided this does not result in economic waste. Kritikos, supra.

 
The key is that whether using an estimate or actual costs to support damages from a construction defect, the measure of damages is the reasonable cost to complete per the original design / contract (versus a subsequent and better design to repair the defects) provided that the repair costs do not amount to economic waste.

 
Interestingly, this case also discussed the owner’s set-off for delay damages. It is uncertain in this case whether the owner utilized any expert to establish delay damages, which is often and properly the case, or how the owner specifically presented the delay damages (as there is no discussion that there was a liquidated damages provision in the contract). The Fourth District simply stated: “Delay damages were properly presented to the jury. By their very nature, delay damages may not be subject to exact calculation, making the owner’s opinion of the value of his loss of use of his property admissible and relevant.” Kritikos, supra. Based on this limited statement, it would seem that these damages are not referring to liquidated damages or delays to the critical path of a construction schedule, but rather an owner (without any expert testimony) testifying as to “loss of use damages,” i.e., an owner testifying that due to the circumstances of the case, he/she was damaged by being not being able to utilize his residence. But, it is uncertain what the owner did to support these damages.

 

 

For more information on loss of use damages, please see: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/the-difference-between-lost-profit-and-loss-of-use-damages/

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.