Releases in consideration for progress payments are a routine occurrence in the construction industry. The release language will typically include a release of lien and bond rights through a certain date and it may be broad enough to include a release of other rights through that date, such as a release of any and all claims, damages, costs, fees, amounts, etc. that are known about or incurred through the date of the release.
Contractors and subcontractors that have pending or disputed additional / extra work items and/or pending or disputed claims (whether for additional / extra work, delay, lost productivity or inefficiency, acceleration, etc.) need to be sure to carve out the subject matter of the pending items from the release language. It is ok if the specific amount of the carve-out for the additional / extra work or claim is not known as long as the carve-out clearly reflects that the entity is not releasing the amounts associated with the item.
If an owner (in the case of a contractor) or a contractor (in the case of a subcontractor) refuse to pay the progress payment after it receives the release with items carved out, there is really not much the entity can do because it needs the progress payment. However, to preserve its rights, it should absolutely save the release that was not accepted with the carve-out language and should follow-up with an e-mail or other letter that the owner or contractor, whatever the case may be, refused to pay the entity with the items carved out in the release. This way, if a dispute arises down the road, the entity has done what it can to preserve these items and prevent the opposing party from arguing that the entity waived and released its rights by virtue of the releases it executed in consideration of payment.
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