SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE: EQUITABLE REMEDY TO ENFORCE AFFIRMATIVE OBLIGATION

When a party breaches an agreement, particularly when dealing with real estate, there is an equitable remedy known as specific performance that requests the trial judge issue an order to affirmatively force the breaching party to perform, i.e., close on the real estate contract.   You are asking the court to require the other party to specifically perform an affirmative obligation.  See Melbourne Ocean Club Condominium Ass’n, Inc. v. Elledge, 71 So.3d 144, 146 (Fla. 2011).

A decree of specific performance is an equitable remedy ‘not granted as a matter of right or grace but as a matter of sound judicial discretion’ governed by legal and equitable principles.  Specific performance shall only be granted when 1) the plaintiff is clearly entitled to it, 2) there is no adequate remedy at law, and 3) the judge believes that justice requires it.

Castigliano v. O’Connor, 911 So.2d 145, 148 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005) (internal citations omitted).

An example of specific performance may play out, as mentioned, in a real estate contract where a seller refuses to close on the transaction.

For instance, in M&M Realty Partners at Hagen Ranch, LLC v. Mazzoni, 2020 WL 7296793 (11th Cir. 2020), a buyer entered into a land sale contract with a seller.  The contract included a six-year (contingency) period for the buyer to secure permits required to develop the land.  Closing never occurred and the buyer sued the seller for specific performance – to force the seller to close on the sale of the land.

During the six-year contingency period, the buyer spent substantial monies to secure permits.  Meanwhile, during this period, the seller received a better offer for the land.  The buyer claimed this prompted the seller to avoid closing.  Nonetheless, when the buyer secured the approvals to develop the land, it notified the seller that it wants to close on the land.  The seller refused claiming the buyer had not satisfied all conditions to closing, prompting this lawsuit for specific performance.  The trial court ruled in favor of the seller holding that the buyer failed to prove it was ready, willing, and able to perform (close) under the contract because there was no evidence that the buyer had sufficient funds to close.  The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

To establish a prima facie claim for specific performance of a contract or for damages for breach of a contract, Florida law requires the plaintiff to show it was ready, willing, and able to perform the contract.  A purchaser may show it is financially ready and able by showing it has (1) the necessary “cash in hand,” (2) “personal[ ] possess[ion] of assets … and a credit rating” that show a “reasonable certainty to command the requisite funds,” or (3) “a binding commitment … by a financially able third party.”  It is undisputed that [the buyer]…in this case, had neither (1) the necessary $5 million of cash in hand [to close] nor (2) assets and a credit rating sufficient to command that sum. Therefore [the buyer’s] only hope is to show it had (3) a binding commitment from a financially able third party.

[The buyer] argues that it was ready, willing, and able to perform under the contract, first, because [the ultimate principals of the members of the buyer limited liability company] could command credit from a bank in excess of $5 million and, second, because [the principals] each had over $5 million in cash. As [the buyer] is relying upon the resources of third parties, namely [principals], to show it was ready, willing, and able to close, [the buyer’s] arguments properly go to the third possible showing, i.e., that it has a binding commitment from a financially able third party. [The buyer] argues that its principals’ personal resources are sufficient to show the company had a “reasonable certainty” of being able to complete the purchase, but this falls short of the “binding commitment” the law requires.

M&M Realty Partners at Hagen Ranch, supra, at *2 (internal citations omitted).

The Eleventh Circuit agreed that the fact that the buyer’s ultimate principals had the funds is of no moment.  There was no evidence to support that either of the principals made a binding commitment (or any commitment, for that matter) to give or lend the money to the buyer to close on the land.  The Eleventh Circuit was not going to disregard corporate formalities of setting up a limited liability company for purposes of insulating liability simply because the principals of the two members of the limited liability company independently had money to close.

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.

 

HOW THE CUMULATIVE IMPACT THEORY HAS BEEN DEFINED

Largely in the federal contract arena, there is a theory referred to as “cumulative impacts” used by a contractor to recover unforeseeable costs associated with a multitude of changes that have an overwhelming ripple effect on its efficiency, particularly efficiency dealing with its original, base contract work.  In other words, by dealing with extensive changes, there is an unforeseeable impact imposed on the contractor relative to its unchanged or base contract work.  Under this theory, the contractor oftentimes prices its cumulative impact under a total cost approach with an examination on its cost overrun. However, this is not an easy theory to prevail on because there needs to be a focus on the sheer number of changes, causation supporting the impact, and whether there were concurrent impacts or delays that played a role in the ripple effect.  See, e.g., Appeals of J.A. Jones Const. Co., ENGBCA No. 6348, 00-2 BCA P 31000 (July 7, 2000) (“However, in the vast majority of cases such claims are routinely denied because there were an insufficient number of changes, contractor-caused concurrent delays, disruptions and inefficiencies and/or a general absence of evidence of causation and impact.”).

To best articulate how the cumulative impact theory has been defined, I want to include language directly from courts and board of contract appeals that have dealt with this theory.  This way the contractor knows how to best work with their experts with this definition in mind–and, yes, experts will be needed–to persuasively package and establish causation and damages stemming from the multitude of changes.  While many of these definitions are worded differently, you will see they have the same focus dealing with the unforeseeable ripple effect of the extensive changes.

Any contractor seeking an equitable adjustment from the Government must prove liability, causation, and resultant injury.  An impact claim—often characterized using other names, such as, “cumulative impact,” “ripple effect,” “loss of labor efficiency,” or “loss of productivity”—is based upon the theory that  individual compensable changes to a Contract, taken as a whole, can have such a disruptive effect on the contractor’s performance that the contractor has a compensable claim for costs in addition to the amounts of its individual change orders.

In order to recover on an impact claim, a contractor must do more than present evidence of the sheer number or scope of changes.  Nor is it sufficient to compare the cost of the work, as changed, to the original contract price.  A contractor must also present evidence of causation and impact. Cumulative impact claims are fact-intensive and require the contractor to substantiate its claims that its work was delayed or was performed in an inefficient, unproductive, or more costly manner as a result of the individual changes to the Contract. As one board observed, “[t]here must be testimony and contemporaneous documents evidencing the type and extent of disruption to the work, and a showing that the disruption resulted from Government actions.” 

Jackson Const. Co. v. United States, 62 Fed.Cl. 84, 103–04 (2004) (internal quotations omitted).

Or:

Because contractors are required to include known and generally foreseeable impacts on unchanged work in pricing the cost of a change, the term “cumulative impact” has come to mean, in a generic sense, the impact on unchanged work which is not attributable to any one change but flows from the synergy of the number and scope of changes issued on a project. The underlying theory is that numerous changes cause a cascading ripple-type of impact on performance time and efficiency which is too uncertain or diffuse to be readily discernable at the time of pricing each individual change.

***

We do not question that such impacts from cumulative changes do, in some instances, occur and should be compensated. However, we are mindful that impacts, whether on changed or unchanged work, which flow directly from individual changes are, with few exceptions, legally compensated by the price negotiated for the change and, thus, should be excluded from recovery under a cumulative impact claim. We are also mindful that even when a compensable cumulative impact is found, proof of damages under a total cost approach (an approach often relied upon in this type of claim) is acceptable only where safeguards for its use have been clearly established. The total cost method is not favored, in part, because it is extremely difficult to assure that the contract is not transformed into a de facto cost reimbursement contract and that costs which should be borne by [the contractor] are excluded. Thus, we must carefully examine any claim of cumulative impact under a total cost approach to assure that the four factors generally recognized for its use have been met.

Mcmillin Bros. Constructors, Inc., EBCA No. 328-10-84, 91-1 BCA P 23351 (Aug. 31, 1990).

Or:

Cumulative impact is the unforeseeable disruption of productivity resulting from the “synergistic” effect of an undifferentiated group of changes. Cumulative impact is referred to as the “ripple effect” of changes on unchanged work that causes a decrease in productivity and is not analyzed in terms of spatial or temporal relationships. This phenomenon arises at the point the ripples caused by an indivisible body on two or more changes on the pond of a construction project sufficiently overlap and disturb the surface such that entitlement to recover additional costs resulting from the turbulence spontaneously erupts. This overlapping of the ripples is also described as the “synergistic effect” of accumulated changes. This effect is unforeseeable and indirect. Cumulative impact has also been described in terms of the fundamental alteration of the parties’ bargain resulting from changes

***

Causation, in the context of a cumulative impact, can be an elusive commodity because the concept of cumulative impact is, in itself, somewhat amorphous. Several points relevant to cumulative impact and causation, however, are clear. First, the mere existence of numerous contract changes in and of themselves, whether or not the number of changes is considered to be reasonable or unreasonable and whether or not the changes resulted from defective specifications, establishes no right to recover cumulative impact costs. Consequently, contract changes alone, regardless of their number or nature combined with Government liability do not serve as a substitute for causation and do not necessarily give rise to cumulative impact damages. Second, it is clear that demonstrating an overrun in labor and the existence of numerous changes without some evidence linking the changes to the overrun is insufficient proof of causation. Finally, there must be some proof of a causal connection established showing that the undifferentiated group of contract changes affecting the changed and unchanged contract work resulted in the loss of productivity on that work. This proof may take the form of demonstrating that there are no other reasons for a loss of productivity for which the Government is not responsible. 

Appeal of Centex Bateson Const. Co., Inc., VABCA No. 4613, 99-1 BCA P 30153 (Dec. 3, 1998).

 

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.

 

CONSTRUCTION DEFECT DAMAGES: BENEFIT-OF-THE-BARGAIN OR RELIANCE RECOVERY

In the preceding article, I discussed a case where an owner sued its contractor and design professional for construction defects and design defects that contributed to the same damage.   There was a valuable discussion in this case as to the measure of damages in a construction defect dispute.  It is a discussion that construction defect parties and practitioners need to know.  A plaintiff needs to know for purposes of proving damages at trial and working with an expert in furtherance of proving their damages.   A defendant needs to know for the same reasons and to work with experts in establishing defenses to an owner’s construction defect and design defect damages.

 

 “The proper measure of damages for construction defects is the cost of correcting the defects, except in certain instances where the corrections involve an unreasonable destruction of the structure and a cost which is grossly disproportionate to the results to be obtained.”  Stated another way, “the measure of damages for breaching a construction contract is the reasonable cost of construction and completion in accordance with the contract, if this is possible and does not involve unreasonable economic waste.”  However, “[i]f in the course of making repairs the owner elects to adopt a more expensive [i.e., a better] design, the recovery should be limited to what would have been the reasonable cost of repair according to the original design.”  [This measure of damages is known as benefit-of-the-bargain damages.]

***

As an alternative to benefit-of-the-bargain damages, an injured party has a right to damages based on its reliance interest, including expenditures made in performance or in preparation for performance, the recovery of which will place the injured party in the position it occupied before entering into the contract.  However, “[a]ny benefit retained from the expenditures made in reliance on the contract must be offset against the injured party’s damages.”  In other words, a reliance recovery may be reduced to the extent that the breaching party can prove that a “deduction” is appropriate for any benefit received by the injured party. [This measure of damages is referred as a reliance recovery to damages.]

Broward County, Florida v. CH2M Hill, Inc., 45 Fla. L. Weekly D1736a (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) (internal citations omitted).

In this case, the appellate court held that the trial court erred in its measure of damages because the owner’s damages were based on a redesign that was a different, better design than the bargained for original design (as there was evidence that the original design was doomed from the get-go even if constructed correctly).   Thus, benefit-of-the-bargain damages did not apply–the owner did not present damages to correct defects per the original design but put on damages associated with its different and better redesign.  Yet, the appellate court maintained that if the public owner could not repair the defects in the original design, “a viable alternative measure of damages [under the reliance recovery] was the [owner’s] out-of-pocket costs, less any benefits the [owner] received from the contracts.”  Broward County, supra.   For this reason, the Fourth District remanded back to the trial court to enter judgment based on the owner’s reliance recovery based on the evidence already presented at trial relating to the owner’s out-of-pocket costs for the original design and construction and a potential deduct for the benefit the owner received relative to the original design and construction.

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.

 

BASIS TO RESCIND A CONTRACT UNDER EQUITABLE REMEDY OF RESCISSION

When a seller of residential real property fails to knowingly disclose defects that are not readily observable and materially affects the value of the real property, this gives rise to a fraudulent nondisclosure or concealment claim, otherwise known as a Johnson v. Davis claim.  (See this article that discusses this claim.).   This is not the easiest claim to prove because a seller rarely will concede they knew of a hidden defect that they failed to disclose.  Thus, discovery is warranted to show they evidently knew but elected not to disclose because doing so would have impacted the sale or the value of the sale.  If you believe you have a fraudulent nondisclosure claim, make sure to consult with counsel so that you understand your rights relative to the facts associated with the claim.

In a recent case, Rost Investments, LLC v. Cameron, 45 Fla. L. Weekly D1717a (Fla. 2d DCA 2020), a lessee/potential buyer of residential property entered into a lease with an option to purchase contract.   The option to purchase needed to be exercised by the lessee.  Immediately after entering into this contract, the lessee claimed the contract should be rescinded based on the lessor’s fraudulent nondisclosure of defects that materially affect the value of the real property and the seller’s refusal to complete warranty-type items on an intake sheet.

First, the lessee claimed that when they moved into the house, the lessor agreed it would repair certain items that were identified on an intake sheet – hot water in the showers, low water pressure, two remote controls for the garage, and the refrigerator needed to be replaced.  The lessor did not.

Second, the lessee claimed there were latent defects with the property that the lessor knew about but failed to disclose.

After trial, the trial court granted rescission in favor of the lessee.  The Second District Court of Appeals reversed.

Rescission of a contract is an equitable remedy if the party seeking rescission has no adequate remedy at law (such as with a breach of contract claim where monetary damages would be awarded for the breach).  Rost Investments, supra (citation omitted).

“[A] party who voluntarily executes a document . . . is bound by its terms in the absence of coercion, duress, fraud in the inducement or some other independent ground justifying rescission.” 

***

While an agreement may be rescinded for fraud relating to an existing fact, as a general rule, rescission will not be granted “for failure to perform a covenant or promise to do an act in the future, unless the covenant breached is a dependent one.”  “A covenant is dependent where it goes to the whole consideration of the contract; where it is such an essential part of the bargain that the failure of it must be considered as destroying the entire contract; or where it is such an indispensable part of what both parties intended that the contract would not have been made with the covenant omitted.”

Rost Investments, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).

The Second District held that the items on the intake sheet that the seller did not address “were [not] so essential to the bargain that [the lessor’s] failure to attend to them destroyed the contracts.”  These are items that could have been resolved with money damages through a breach of contract claim, i.e., an action at law.  Hence, the lessor’s failure to fix these items did not serve as a basis for the lessee to rescind the contract.

Next, the fraudulent nondisclosure claim for latent defects did not apply because the lessee was leasing the house as the option to purchase the real property had not been exercised.  The fraudulent nondisclosure claim applies to buyers of real property.   While perhaps the lessee had an argument for fraudulent misrepresentation, the trial court found that the lessor’s nondisclosure of certain defects was not intentional and, without the intent, there was no basis for a fraudulent misrepresentation claim.  (Notably, in a fraudulent nondisclosure claim that applies to buyers of real property, a seller’s state of mind is not at-issue– what is at-issue is that the seller had knowledge of a defect not readily observable that materially affects the value of the real property and did not disclose it.)  See Rost Investments, supra, n.7.

 

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.

 

GUESSING AS TO YOUR CONSTRUCTION DAMAGES IS NOT THE BEST APPROACH

Arbitrarily guessing as to your construction damages is NOT the best approach.  Sure, experts can be costly.  No doubt about it.  Having an expert versus guessing as to your construction damages caused by another party’s breach of contract is a no brainer.  Engage an expert or, at a minimum, be in a position to competently testify as to your damages caused by another party’s breach of contract.  Otherwise, the guessing is not going to get you very far as a concrete subcontractor found out in Patrick Concrete Constructors, Inc. v. Layne Christensen Co., 2018 WL 6528485 (W.D. New York 2018) where the subcontractor could not competently support its delay-related damages or change orders and, equally important, could not support that the damages were proximately caused by the general contractor’s breach of the subcontract.

 

In this case, the concrete subcontractor entered into a subcontract to perform concrete work for a public project. The project was delayed and the general contractor was required to pay liquidated damages to the owner.  Not surprisingly, the subcontractor disputed liability for delays and sued the general contractor for all of its delay-related damages “in the form of labor and materials escalation, loss of productivity, procurement and impact costs, field and home office overhead, idle equipment, inability to take on other work, lost profits, and interest.”  Patrick Concrete Constructors, 2018 WL at *1.

The general contractor moved for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s delay-related damages – the subcontractor’s damages were nothing but guesses and the subcontractor could not prove the general contractor was the cause of the subcontractor’s damages.

The portion of the deposition transcript of the subcontractor’s president that may have also been its corporate representative as to damages is telling:

Q: After today’s exercise, do you believe you’re entitled to [$]681,740 under those items [regarding change orders]?

A: No.

Q: What amount [are] you entitled to?

A: I don’t know. I’d have to work it up.

Q: So as of right now, with my one chance to depose you, the person on damages, you can’t give me a figure that you’re actually entitled to?

A: No. We just ripped all these figures apart, so now I got to go back and refigure.

With regard to the amount of damages sought for “extra costs,” Bell [the President of subcontractor] testified as follows:

Q: Okay. Then you have – you total everything here, total of everything except for the Amount Due on Contract and Outstanding Change Order heading. So that [$]915[,000] basically added up everything under Extra Costs Not Submitted all the way down to Extra Equipment?

A: Yes.

Q: You’re asking for [$]915[,000] in this. Do you believe that’s actually what you’re entitled to today?

A: Well, like I said, we were – like you said, we have to do some adjustments here.

Q: Okay. Adjustments downward, correct, sir?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell me today what you think you’re actually entitled to?

A: No.

And, there was more.  The subcontractor could not locate its original estimate for the job, which is important for any loss of productivity or inefficiency claim – or any claim dealing with added labor and equipment usage. The subcontractor could not identify payroll records, time cards, vendor invoices, or anything to justify the damages it sought.  The subcontractor guessed as to labor hours without the back-up substantiating the labor hours and, equally important, could not establish it incurred the guesstimated labor hours caused by the general contractor.

In essence, Plaintiff [subcontractor] concedes that it cannot provide the Court with an “intelligent estimate without speculation or conjecture,” for either category of damages. Because Plaintiff has failed to make a factual showing sufficient to establish that the “extra costs” and “change orders” damages are capable of being proved with reasonable certainty, summary judgment dismissing these claims is appropriate.

***

Here, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant [general contractor] breached the Subcontract by delaying the Project, and that Defendant’s delay caused it to sustain damages. However, Plaintiff has admitted that Defendant was not responsible for all of the delay, and that Plaintiff and its reinforcing bar subcontractor contributed to the delay as well. Because, by Plaintiff’s own admission, it contributed to the damage-causing delays, it is required to allocate the amount of delay and resultant damages between, at a minimum, itself and Defendant.

Patrick Concrete Constructors, 2018 WL at *4.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consequential Damages can be Recovered Against Insurer in Breach of Contract

In a favorable case for insureds, the Fifth District Court of Appeal maintained that “when an insurer breaches an insurance contract, the insured is entitled to recover more than the pecuniary loss involved in the balance of the payments due under the policy in consequential damages, provided the damages were in contemplation of the parties at the inception of the [insurance] contract.” Manor House, LLC v. Citizens Property Insurance Corp., 44 Fla. L. Weekly D1403b (Fla. 5thDCA 2019) (internal citations and quotation omitted). Thus, consequential damages can be recovered against an insurer in a breach of contract action (e.g., breach of the insurance policy) if the damages can be proven and were in contemplation of the parties at the inception of the insurance contract.

In Manor House, the trial court entered summary judgment against the insured holding the insured could not seek lost rental income in its breach of contract action against Citizens Property Insurance because the property insurance policy did not provide coverage for lost rent. However, the Fifth District reversed this ruling because the trial court denied the insured the opportunity to prove whether the parties contemplated that the insured, an apartment complex owner, would suffer lost rental income (consequential damages) if the insurer breached its contractual duties.

This ruling is valuable to insureds because Citizens Property Insurance, a creature of statute, cannot be sued for first-party bad faith. However, the Fifth District found that the consequential damages in the form of lost rental income did not require the insured to prove the insurer acted in bad faith, but merely, breached the terms of the policy. This holding can be extended to other breach of contract actions against an insurer when the insured suffered and can prove consequential-type damages caused by the breach.

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.

CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES CAN BE RECOVERED AGAINST INSURER IN BREACH OF CONTRACT

In a favorable case for insureds, the Fifth District Court of Appeal maintained that “when an insurer breaches an insurance contract, the insured is entitled to recover more than the pecuniary loss involved in the balance of the payments due under the policy in consequential damages, provided the damages were in contemplation of the parties at the inception of the [insurance] contract.”  Manor House, LLC v. Citizens Property Insurance Corp., 44 Fla. L. Weekly D1403b (Fla. 5thDCA 2019) (internal citations and quotation omitted).   Thus, consequential damages can be recovered against an insurer in a breach of contract action (e.g., breach of the insurance policy) if the damages can be proven and were in contemplation of the parties at the inception of the insurance contract.

 

In Manor House, the trial court entered summary judgment against the insured holding the insured could not seek lost rental income in its breach of contract action against Citizens Property Insurance because the property insurance policy did not provide coverage for lost rent.  However, the Fifth District reversed this ruling because the trial court denied the insured the opportunity to prove whether the parties contemplated that the insured, an apartment complex owner, would suffer lost rental income (consequential damages) if the insurer breached its contractual duties.

 

This ruling is valuable to insureds because Citizens Property Insurance, a creature of statute, cannot be sued for first-party bad faith.  However, the Fifth District found that the consequential damages in the form of lost rental income did not require the insured to prove the insurer acted in bad faith, but merely, breached the terms of the policy.   This holding can be extended to other breach of contract actions against an insurer when the insured suffered and can prove consequential-type damages caused by the breach. 

 

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.

CONTRACTUAL WAIVER OF CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES

shutterstock_329903120Contractual waivers of consequential damages are important, whether they are mutual or one-sided.  I believe in specificity in that the types of consequential damages that are waived should be detailed in the waiver of consequential damages provision. Standard form construction agreements provide a good template of the types of consequential damages that the parties are agreeing to waive. 

 

But, what if there is no specificity in the waiver of consequential damages provision? What if the provision just states that the parties mutually agree to waive consequential damages or that one party waives consequential-type damages against the other party?  Let me tell you what would happen.  The plaintiff will argue that the damages it seeks are general damages and are NOT waived by the waiver of consequential damages provision.  The defendant, on the other hand, will argue that the damages are consequential in nature and, therefore, contractually waived.   FOR THIS REASON, PARTIES NEED TO APPRECIATE WHAT DAMAGES ARE BEING WAIVED OR LIMITED, AND POTENTIALLY THOSE DAMAGES NOT BEING WAIVED OR LIMITED, WHEN AGREEING TO A WAIVER OF CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES PROVISION!

 

Interestingly, this issue appeared in the recent case, Keystone Airpark Authority v. Pipeline Contractors, Inc., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D2601d (Fla. 1stDCA 2018).   Here, a plaintiff sued a contractor and engineer for defects to an airplane hangar and taxiways.  The plaintiff claimed the engineer’s negligence through its failure to supervise the work as contractually required which resulted in defective construction.  The plaintiff claimed that the engineer was responsible for the costs to repair the airplane hangar and taxiways.   The engineer argued under a waiver of consequential damages provision that read:

 

“Passero [engineer] shall have no liability for indirect, special, incidental, punitive, or consequential damages of any kind.”  

 

The engineer argued that the damages the plaintiff was seeking due to its failure to supervise was excluded under the waiver of consequential damages provision in the contract.  The plaintiff argued that such damages are general damages and not barred.  The trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court, held that the damage was barred because the damage was consequential.  In doing so, the court examined the definitions of the types of damages:

 

General damages are ‘those damages which naturally and necessarily flow or result from the injuries alleged. . . . General damages  ‘may fairly and reasonably be considered as arising in the usual course of events from the breach of contract itself. Stated differently, [g]eneral damages are commonly defined as those damages which are the direct, natural, logical and necessary consequences of the injury.

In contrast, special damages are not likely to occur in the usual course of events, but may reasonably be supposed to have been in contemplation of the parties at the time they made the contract. They consist of items of loss which are peculiar to the party against whom the breach was committed and would not be expected to occur regularly to others in similar circumstances.  In other words, general damages are awarded only if injury were foreseeable to a reasonable man and . . . special damages are awarded only if actual notice were given to the carrier of the possibility of injury. Damage is foreseeable by the carrier if it is the proximate and usual consequence of the carrier’s action.

[C]onsequential damages do not arise within the scope of the immediate buyer-seller transaction, but rather stem from losses incurred by the non-breaching party in its dealings, often with third parties, which were a proximate result of the breach, and which were reasonably foreseeable by the breaching party at the time of contracting. The consequential nature of loss . . . is not based on the damages being unforeseeable by the parties. What makes a loss consequential is that it stems from relationships with third parties, while still reasonably foreseeable at the time of contracting

 

Keystone Airpark Authority, supra (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

 

Based on these definitions, the court agreed that the repairs to the hangars and taxiways were not special damages as “[i]t cannot be said that repairs stemming from improperly supervised construction work are unlikely to occur in the usual course of business.”  Keystone Airpark Authority, supra.   Such damages did not involve special circumstances for which the plaintiff would be required to give the engineer actual notice. 

 

BUT… these damages were CONSEQUENTIAL:

 

[T]he cost of repair here did not constitute general damages, either, because the damages were not the direct or necessary consequence of Passero’s [engineer] alleged failure to properly supervise the construction work.  The contractor could have completed the job correctly without Passero’s supervision.  Thus, the need for repair did not arise within the scope of the immediate transaction between Passero and the Airpark.  Instead, the need for repair stemmed from loss incurred by the Airpark in its dealing with a third party – the contractor.  While these damages ‘were reasonably foreseeable,’ they are consequential and not general or direct damages.

 

The appellate, however, certified the following question of great public importance:

 

WHERE A CONTRACT EXPRESSLY REQUIRES A PARTY TO SUPERVISE CONSTRUCTION WORK AND TO DETERMINE THE SUITABILITY OF MATERIALS USED IN THE CONSTRUCTION, BUT THE PARTY FAILS TO PROPERLY SUPERVISE AND INFERIOR MATERIALS ARE USED, ARE THE COSTS TO REPAIR DAMAGE CAUSED BY THE USE OF THE IMPROPER MATERIALS GENERAL, SPECIAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES?

 

Thus, there could be a ruling in future from the Florida Supreme Court relating to construction industry, specifically relating to the damages associated with a supervising architect or engineer.

 

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.

ECONOMIC DAMAGES CANNOT BE BASED ON SPECULATION

shutterstock_630016574Economic damages, unlike non-economic damages (such as those in personal injury disputes), need to rest on a reasonable basis.  Economic damages are those routinely seen in a construction dispute.  These damages cannot be based on conjecture or guesswork and need to be supported by competent substantial evidence.  Otherwise, the economic damages will be deemed too speculative because they are not reasonably quantifiable.   I recently discussed a case involving the professional boxer Canelo Alvarez that was sued by a former promoter for unjust enrichment.  Although the promoter recovered a jury verdict for unjust enrichment damages against Canelo Alvarez, the verdict was reversed because the methodology utilized by the promoter to demonstrate damages was speculative.  This is definitely not what a plaintiff wants to happen after prevailing at the trial level! 

 

Parties are generally involved in civil disputes because of damages.  Without damages, there is no lawsuit.  Thus, a party’s damages, and the methodology used to calculate the damages, is critical.  While economic damages do not need to be demonstrated with mathematical precision, they do need to be supported by competent substantial evidence, i.e., they need to be based on a reasonable degree of certainty. 

 

 

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.

QUICK NOTE: MITIGATION OF DAMAGES IN CONTRACT CASES

imagesIn an earlier article, I discussed an owner’s measure of damages when a contractor breaches the construction contract.  This article discussed a case where the contractor elected to walk off a residential renovation job due to a payment dispute when he demanded more money and the owners did not bite.  This case also discussed the commonly asserted defense known as mitigation of damages, i.e., the other party failed to properly mitigate their own damages.  

 

In the breach of contract setting, mitigation of damages refers to those damages the other side could have reasonably avoided had he undertaken certain (reasonable) measures.  This is known as the doctrine of avoidable consequences

 

In contract cases, there is really no “duty to mitigate” because the claimant “is not compelled to undertake any ameliorative efforts”; rather, he is merely prevented from recovering damages he “could have reasonably avoided.” The word “reasonably” is important. The doctrine of avoidable consequences does not allow a trial court to reduce damages “based on what ‘could have been avoided’ through Herculean efforts.  It applies only where a claimant fails to undertake measures to avoid damages that are available to him without undue effort or expense.

Forbes v. Prime General Contractors, Inc., 43 Fla.L.Weekly D2094a (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) (internal citations omitted).

 

Stated differently, (1) what reasonable efforts could the other party have undertaken to avoid damage or further damage and (2) if the other party employed such efforts, what is the quantum of those avoidable damages.  Typically, you want these addressed by an expert witness so that there is evidence of reasonable efforts the other side could have undertaken and had these efforts been undertaken their damages would be reduced to “X” or it would have prevented them from incurring “Y” in 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.