Here is a quote from a judge in an order after the bench trial of a complex construction dispute between a prime contractor and subcontractor on a federal project:
The evidence received in this case demonstrates the dynamic nature of complicated construction projects. At every step, the details matter, and coordination and cooperation among the companies tasked with performing the job is essential. Thankfully, as even this case shows, most disagreements that arise as projects evolve are handled during construction, far away from a courthouse, by the professionals who know best how to achieve the ultimate goal of a completed project.
U.S. f/u/b/o McKenney’s, Inc. v. Leebcor Services, LLC, 2022 WL 3549980, *1 (E.D. Va. 2022).
This is a true statement. A statement that parties should remember as they navigate the nuances of a complicated construction project and dispute.
The facts of the case, however, would hardly be construed as a win for either party. Something else for parties to consider as they navigate the nuances of a complicated construction project and dispute.
While there were many components in dispute, one component is worthy of discussion. That is competing delay claims between the subcontractor and prime contractor. The prime contractor claimed the subcontractor delayed the critical path. The subcontractor claimed the prime contractor delayed the critical path. Both parties had experts supporting their conflicting delay theories. The question became which expert is more persuasive? Stated differently, which expert is the most credible? Perhaps neither as neither party recovered delay damages against the other.
The subcontractor’s delay expert did not appear to assign much blame to the subcontractor. The court did not find this to be credible because the evidence demonstrated the subcontractor’s “own shortcomings consistently delayed its work and, in turn, Project completion.” Leebcor Services, supra, at *25. The court understood that the subcontractor needed to prove that but for the prime contractor, the subcontractor would not have completed its work late. Yet, evidence demonstrated there was deficient and untimely work performed by the subcontractor. “Because [subcontractor] failed to disentangle its evidence of alleged [prime contractor]-caused delay from delay caused by its own shortcomings, it failed to demonstrate that [prime contractor] was required under the Subcontract to adjust its fixed-price to account for [prime contractor]-caused delay.” Leebcor Services, supra, at *26.
The court found the prime contractor’s delay expert, while maybe more credible in certain respects, was not more convincing. For instance, during a period of time, the court found that while the subcontractor may have been behind schedule, “[prime contractor] has failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that delays to the Project arising during this period are attributable to [subcontractor’s] failure to timely complete [the scheduled activity]. This is because the court concludes that other activities outside of [subcontractor’s] scope of work were delaying the completion of successor activities.” Leebcor Services, supra, at *28. In another instance, the court found that “concurrent issues within [prime contractor’s] control also delayed them, and no evidence was offered that would permit the court to disentangle [subcontractor’s] deficiencies from those attributable to [prime contractor].” Id. at *29.
Remember, many construction disputes require expert witnesses including delay experts. The expert needs to carry the day on an issue. To do this, the expert needs to be credible and persuasive. This case demonstrates why this should not be overstated and why, even with experts, a trier of fact may still find that neither carry the day.
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