What are your damages as the result of a breach of the construction contract? This is an important question, right? It is probably the most important part of your case. If you didn’t have damages, you wouldn’t be in a dispute. So, I repeat, what are your damages as the result of a breach of the construction contract? The below case explains dealing with a contractor that elected to walk off the job mid-construction.
In Forbes v. Prime General Contractors, Inc., 43 Fla.L.Weekly D20194a (Fla. 2d DCA 2018), owners hired a contractor to perform a residential renovation job for $276,000. The owners were to pay the contractor in five draw payments (common for residential jobs) where the third draw payment was due upon the contractor’s completion of the dry-in (as defined in the contract). After the contractor received the first two draw payments totaling $138,000 plus an additional $6,000 for updated architectural plans, the contractor claimed the job doubled in price and demanded that the owners pay the contractor the third draw payment immediately (before it was due) plus an additional $31,450. The contractor refused to continue unless the owners agreed to its terms, and then walked off the job when the owners would not agree to these terms (nor should the owners agree to those terms). At the time the contractor walked off the job, the owners’ home was not habitable due to the construction.
The owners sued the contractor for breach of the construction contract and had two damages methodologies they could employ:
(1) they could deem the contract a total breach, treat the contract as void, suspend their own performance under the contract, and look to be placed in the position they would have been in prior to entering the contract (i.e., had they not hired the contractor); or
(2) they could seek the damages that would place them in the position had the contractor completed the contract. This damages methodology is more common and would result in the owners seeking the difference between the total amount to complete the contract and the amount owed under the original contract. For example, if the owners were all in at $376,000 to complete the contract, the contractor would be liable for $100,000, since the owners were always planning on the original contract amount of $276,000.
In this case, however, the owners chose the less common first damages methodology. The reason being is that the owners could not find another contractor that was reasonably willing to complete the contract. Also, because the home was uninhabitable, the owners were forced to buy another house versus indefinitely renting. This resulted in the owners losing the uninhabitable house to foreclosure and their $45,000 equity in the house. Accordingly, the owners, seeking to be put in the position had they never hired the contractor, sought to recover, among other damages (i) the first two draw payments totaling $138,000 plus the additional $6,000 for updated architectural drawings, (ii) $5,600 in rent, and (iii) $45,000 in lost equity. These were permissible recoverable damages under the first damages methodology:
They [owners] sought to be put in the position they would have occupied had they never contracted with Prime [contractor]. It was clear at trial that the Forbeses [owners] regarded the breach as total; indeed, they were explicit that they were entitled to suspend their own performance under the contract. And the damages they asked the court to award — return of payments made under the contract and the equity in their home at the time of contracting — were of a type that regarded the contract as void and attempted to restore the Forbeses to their precontractual situation.
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