GENERAL CONTRACTOR’S PROFESSIONAL MALPRACTICE / NEGLIGENCE CLAIM AGAINST DESIGN PROFESSIONAL

Untitled designA recent case supports a professional malpractice (negligence) claim by a general contractor against a design professional by reversing a trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the design professional and finding a question of fact remained as to an architect’s role in the renovation of a public construction project.  By the appellate court finding that a question of fact remained, the appellate court was finding that it was a triable issue, which is exactly what the general contractor wanted in this case.  Getting this issue and the facts to the jury is the leverage the general contractor presumably wanted.

 

In Perez-Gurri Corp. v. Mcleod, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2487c (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a general contractor was hired by Miami to renovate a public project.  Miami’s prime consultant subcontracted with an architectural firm to prepare the design documents for the renovation.  The construction of the project was delayed and the general contractor filed suit against the architectural firm and other design professionals for professional negligence.  The general contractor’s theory was that the design professional’s professional negligence delayed construction thereby causing the general contractor to incur increased costs (such as extended general conditions)

 

Architectural Role or Services

 

The architect claimed it played no role in the project.  It is uncertain from the opinion whether the architect was claiming it literally played no role in the project or whether its position was that its role was so limited that a duty was not owed to the general contractor.  Either way, the court was focused on the role the architect played in the renovation of the project and held a question of fact remained as to the services or role the architect played in the construction of the project.   This is a pretty loose standard because it presumably allows the jury to determine (i) whether the architect rendered services or performed a role on the project and, if so, (ii) whether the role or services caused a delay in the construction of the project.  The reason this standard appears loose is because there isn’t any discussion as to the type of professional services or role that the architect must play for a duty to be extended to the general contractor.  (For there to be a professional negligence claim against the architect, the architect must be deemed to owe a duty to the general contractor with respect to the services or role it is performing.)

 

No-Damage-For-Delay Provision

 

This case also had a discussion regarding the no-damage-for-delay provision in the general contractor’s contract with the City.  The trial court held that the architect was protected by this provision.  (A no-damage-for-delay provision provides that a contractor’s exclusive remedy for delay is an extension of time, and it is not entitled to damages.) The appellate court reversed maintaining nothing in the no-damage-for-delay provision extended to the architect.  And, the contract further provided there are no third party beneficiaries to the contract.

 

Considerations

 

This recent opinion leads to a few important points. 

 

First, as a general contractor, you ideally do not want to extend a no-damage-for-delay provision to anyone but the owner that hires you. From an owner’s perspective, if you want the no-damage-for-delay provision to benefit your consultants, you want to ensure that protection is clearly articulated in the no-damage-for-delay provision with a carve-out in the provision that references there are no third party beneficiaries.

 

Second, no-damage-for-delay provisions are not absolute, meaning there are exceptions to a no-damage-for-delay provision.  There was no discussion as to the applicability of those exceptions here.  Perhaps that is because the facts did not warrant the applicability of an exception or there was no need to go into such discussion since the no-damage-for-delay provision did not extend to the architect, or any design professional for that matter.  But, the applicability of an exception could also raise a question of fact.

 

Third, and mentioned above, there is no discussion as to the role or services the architect must perform for a duty to be extended to the general contractor.  Thus, even if the architect played a role or performed services, the case does not go into detail as to whether such role or services would even rise up to a level of the architect owing a duty to the general contractor.  This is important since the issue of duty is typically a question of law for the court to decide.

 

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.

 

EXAMPLES OF (RISK SHIFTING & ACCEPTING) PROVISIONS IN A SUBCONTRACT

imagesIn reading articles posted in this blog, I hope it is impressed upon you to understand the risks you are accepting in your contract and what to do if you encounter a risk, as well as those risks you are flowing down or allocating to your subcontractors.   Construction is inherently risky so you want to know what to do when you encounter certain situations or occurrences, and in certain circumstances, you want to factor the costs associated with certain accepted risks in your contract amount. 

 

When it comes to subcontracts, there are provisions that contractors want to include in their subcontracts that subcontractors need to note:

 

  1. The schedule – the contractor will want to include provisions that any baseline schedule is not written in stone and that it has the discretion to resequence the progress of the work.  This is an understood event since the contractor is responsible for managing the work so subcontractors should account for this contingency.
  2. No damage for delay – the contractor will want to include a no-damage-for-delay provision that provides it is not responsible for any delay-related damages and that the subcontractor’s only recourse for a delay will be an extension of time.  The provision may also state that the contractor’s liability for any delay will be limited by the amount it receives by the owner associated with the delay.
  3. Change orders – There will be a change order issue at some point.  The subcontractor needs to understand the change order procedure so proper notice is given regarding the change order work before proceeding with that work.  And, if the subcontractor is directed to proceed with work (through a change order directive) or there is a dispute as to the amount or time associated with the change, the subcontractor needs to understand that it needs to track and itemize its costs associated with the change.
  4. Claims – If a subcontractor is delayed / impacted or there is an event triggering change order work, as mentioned above, the subcontractor needs to submit timely notice of the event or occurrence.  Otherwise, there may be an argument that this event or occurrence is waived.  The contractor will argue that the notice provision is important so that it can ensure it timely submits notice to the owner pursuant to the prime contract and a subcontractor’s failure to comply with the notice provision prejudiced the contractor.

 

Provided below is an example of contractual provisions that fit within the above four categories.  These provisions may be analogous to provisions in the subcontract you are working under or, if you are a general contractor, may be provisions you want to consider including in your subcontract.  Remember, the objective is to know those risks you are accepting, those risks to flow down or allocate to the subcontractor, and, importantly, what to do if you encounter a risk!!

 

Also, please share any examples of contractual provisions that you have come across that fit within these categories. The more examples the merrier when it comes to understanding the types of risks that are frequently dealt with and allocated between a contractor and subcontractor.

 

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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 VALUE OF A WELL-WRITTEN SUBCONTRACT TO FORECLOSE SUBCONTRACTOR’S INEFFICIENCY / LOST PRODUCTIVITY DAMAGES

 imagesI have previously discussed the challenges a subcontractor has in proving a lost productivity / inefficiency claim.  Besides being difficult to prove, subcontractors generally enter into subcontracts that include onerous provisions that foreclose a subcontractor’s right to pursue lost productivity / inefficiency claims.   General contractors try to account for these types of delay-related claims by including provisions in their subcontracts that require subcontractors to fully bear this risk.  An example of this ocurrence can be found in the opinion entered in Electrical Contractors, Inc. v.  Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, 2015 WL 1444481 (D. Con. 2015) where the trial court precluded a subcontractor from recovering lost productivity / inefficiency costs based on the language in the subcontract that precluded such claims. Additionally, and importantly, the trial court found that that the subcontractor failed to timely notify the general contractor of its claims under the strict notice provisions of the subcontract.

 

In this case, the general contractor was hired by a state agency to construct a laboratory building and furnished the state a public payment bond.  The prime contract contained a construction schedule (which is not an uncommon exhibit in a prime contract).  The general contractor then entered into subcontracts with trade subcontractors including the electrical subcontractor.  An exhibit to the electrical subcontract was a schedule that simply reproduced dates applicable to the electrical subcontractor’s scope of work that were included in the construction schedule attached to the prime contract.

 

No different than any baseline construction schedule on any construction project, it was not written in stone. This meant there were updates to the schedule that were furnished to the state agency and the state agency unsurprisingly challenged or opposed numerous schedule updates. The general contractor did not keep its electrical subcontractor apprised of the back-and-forth between it and the state agency involving schedule updates (nor was the general contractor under any real obligation to do so).

 

And, as we all know, the schedule of the project is really driven in the field.  So, as the construction progressed, the general contractor’s superintendents directed the electrical subcontractor to perform work in a piecemeal and unsystematic manner. This was due to work areas not being ready for the electrical scope due to delays on the project.  The electrical subcontractor notified the general contractor that it was being impacted and forced to work unproductively. Thereafter, the electrical subcontractor sued the general contractor and the general contractor’s payment bond sureties for damages that included lost productivity / inefficiency damages. 

 

However, the subcontract that the electrical subcontractor signed posed problems with its claims, particularly the following contractual provisions:

 

“Subcontractor agrees to … complete the work in such sequence and order and according to such schedules as Contractor shall establish from time to time … time being of the essence…. If Contractor determines that the Subcontractor is behind schedule or will not be able to maintain the schedule, Subcontractor … shall work overtime, shift work, or work in an altered sequence, if deemed necessary, in the judgment of the Contractor to maintain the progress of the work. Any such … altered sequence work required to maintain progress or to complete the work on a timely basis shall be at Subcontractor’s expense and shall not entitle Subcontractor to … additional compensation.”

***

 

 

“To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, Contractor shall have the right at any time to delay or suspend the work or any part thereof without incurring liability therefore. An extension of time shall be the sole and exclusive remedy of Subcontractor for any delays or suspensions suffered by Subcontractorand Subcontractor shall have no right to seek or recover from Contractor any damages or losses, whether direct or indirect, arising from or related to any delay or acceleration to overcome delay, and/or any impact or effect of such delays on the Work.”

***

 

 

“In the interest of the overall project, W–T [Contractor] reserves the right to alter the sequencing of activities in order to accommodate project conditions and/or Owner requirements. It is understood that the Subcontractor shall be obligated to complete its activities [timely] … regardless of the actual start date.”

***

 

 

There is no guarantee of continuous work. Subcontractor shall work in all areas as they become available and as directed by Whiting–Turner [Contractor]. Subcontractor shall include the inefficiencies, supervision and manpower necessary to run separate and independent crews as necessary.”

 

Electrical Contractors, Inc., supra, at *6 and *7.

 

Additionally, the electrical subcontractor needed to timely notify the general contractor of its claims:

 

“Article 6(d) requires timely written notice as a precondition for making such claims: [N]otice in writing shall be given to the Contractor no later than seven (7) days following the occurrence on which such claim is based…. Any claim not presented within such time period shall be deemed waived by Subcontractor. The notice must describe the dispute, controversy or claim in detail so as to allow Contractor to review its merits … [and] provide detailed information to substantiate such claim including supporting documentation and calculations.”

 

Electrical Contractors, Inc., supra, at *8 (internal citations omitted).

 

While the 7-day claim notice requirement may seem unfair, the court explained that the electrical contractor was a sophisticated entity that knowingly assumed this notice obligation.

 

Of Significance: 

 

These subcontract provisions recited above are not uncommon provisions.  They are rather commonplace with sophisticated contractors–there is no real shock value when looking at these provisions, right?

 

 

If you are a general contractor that includes such provisions in your subcontracts, this case gives you reassurance as to those contractual provisions that are aimed to insulate you from a subcontractor’s delay-related damage and require the subcontractor to give you timely notification of a claim (so that you are not prejudiced by the late submission of a subcontractor claim).  These are important provisions for a general contractor to include in a subcontract and the provisions referenced above are certainly well-written provisions to model.  It is understood that a schedule is never going to be written in stone and there will be logic and sequence changes in the schedule, so protect yourself by including such provisions (including the no-damage-for-delay provision). As you can see, there is value in doing so.

 

On the other hand, if you are a subcontractor, if you accept these provisions, you need to either account for these risks in your subcontract price and/or bear the risk that these provisions may be appropriately enforced against you as shown in this case.  Alternatively, and as the court alluded to, as a sophisticated party, you have the option of not signing the subcontract or trying to negotiate the best subcontract for you with an understanding as to those onerous provisions and risks that you choose to accept.

 

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.

 

“NO DAMAGE FOR DELAY” PROVISIONS AND THE EXCEPTIONS

UnknownContractors and subcontractors should be familiar with “no damage for delay” provisions.  These are contractual provisions that limit the contractor’s remedies for a delay to an extension of time ONLY, and disallow the contractor from being entitled to extended general conditions (overhead) for an otherwise excusable, compensable delay.   

 

There are numerous variations of the “no damage for delay” provision; however they usually contain language that provides as follows:

 

“The contractor’s sole and exclusive remedy for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work shall be an extension of time and contractor shall not be entitled to any damages for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work.”

 

 or

 

“The contractor shall not be entitled to any compensation whatsoever for any delay, interference, hindrance, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work and its sole and exclusive remedy for any delay, interference, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work shall be an extension of time.”

 

In Florida, “no damage for delay” provisions are enforceable on private and public projects.  However, there are EXCEPTIONS that would prevent the provision’s harsh application and entitle a contractor to its extended general conditions for an excusable, compensable delay.  These exceptions are fraud, willful concealment of foreseeable circumstances, and active interferenceSee Triple R Paving, Inc. v. Broward County, 774 So.2d 50 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).  In other words, if the hiring party (owner) does not willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the application of the “no damage for delay” provision will preclude the hired party (contractor) from recovering its extended general conditions associated with the delay.  See id.  On the other hand, if the hiring party does willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the hired party has an argument around the “no damage for delay” provision.

 

Even with a “no damage for delay” provision in the contract, it is imperative for the hired party (contractor) to properly and timely request additional time and money in accordance with the contract.  There are typically provisions that require the hired party (contractor) to notify the hiring party (owner) of delaying events or claims and to request time and money associated with the event or claim.  If a contractor fails to timely preserve its rights under the contract to seek additional time or money, it may preclude itself from recovering extended general conditions for a delay that would otherwise serve as an exception to the “no damage for delay” provision.  See Marriot Corp. v. Dasta Const. Co., 26 F.3d 1057 (11th Cir. 1994) (contractor’s failure to request time pursuant to the contract prevented it from recovering delay damages associated with an owner’s active interference).

 

On federal construction projects, “no damage for delay” provisions are perhaps less common based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (F.A.R.) that would otherwise entitle the contractor to recover delay-related damages if it properly and timely preserves its rights.  These “no damage for delay” provisions are more frequently found in subcontracts between the prime contractor and its subcontractors.  There is authority that would hold an unambiguous “no damage for delay” enforceable on federal construction projects:

 

Nevertheless, given their potentially harsh effect, no damages for delay provisions should be strictly construed, but generally will be enforced, absent delay (1) not contemplated by the parties under the provision, (2) lasting an unreasonable period and thereby amounted to an abandonment of the contract, (3) caused by fraud or bad faith, or (4) amounting to active interference or gross negligence.

Appeal of-The Clark Construction Group, Inc., GAOCAB No. 2003-1, 2004 WL 5462234 (November 23, 2004); accord Grunley Construction Co. v. Architect of the Capitol, GAOCAB No. 2009-1, 2010 WL 2561431 (June 16, 2010).

 

In drafting a “no damage for delay” provision, I always like to include language that specifically states that the application of the “no damage for delay” provision is not conditioned on the hired party (contractor) being granted additional time to substantially complete or finally complete the project.  I also like to include language that the hired party (contractor) understands this “no damage for delay” provision and has factored this provision into the contract amount.  It is important that this provision clearly reflects the intent because the hiring party will want to rely on this provision in the event there is a delaying event and it is a provision that will be strictly construed.

 

Conversely, if you trying to avoid the harsh consequences of a “no damage for delay” provision, it is advisable to consult with counsel that understands the recognized exceptions to the provision and can assist you in negotiating and presenting your claim based on these recognized exceptions.

 

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.