MEASURE OF DAMAGES FOR BREACH OF CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT

How do you determine damages for a breach of a construction contract?  If you are interested in pursing a breach of a construction contract action, this is something you NEED TO KNOW!

The recent Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Cano, Inc. v. Judet, 46 Fla. L. Weekly D2083b (Fla. 4th DCA 201) explains:

Where a contractor breaches a construction contract, and the owner sues for breach of contract and the cost to complete, the measure of damages is the difference between the contract price and the reasonable cost to perform the contractSee Grossman Holdings Ltd. v. Hourihan, 414 So. 2d 1037, 1039-40 (Fla. 1982). In Grossman, the supreme court adopted subsection 346(1)(a) of the Restatement (First) of Contracts (1932), which it concluded was “designed to restore the injured party to the condition he would have been in if the contract had been performed.” Id. at 1039. In other words, the owner will obtain the benefit of his bargain [and this is known as benefit of the bargain damages]. But where there is a total breach of the contract as opposed to a partial breach, an injured party may elect to treat the contract as void and seek damages that will restore him to the position that he was in prior to entering into the contract or the party may seek the benefit of his bargainSee McCray v. Murray, 423 So. 2d 559, 561 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982).

In Judet, an owner entered into a fixed price contract with a contractor to repair damage from a lightning strike. The contract amount was $300,000 payable in $30,000 installments.  A few months after the contractor commenced performance, the owner terminated the contractor because the owner learned the contractor had not obtained required electrical and plumbing permits.  At this time, the owner had paid the contractor $90,000.  The contractor recorded a $40,000 lien for an amount it claimed it was owed and filed a lawsuit to foreclose its construction lien. The owner counter-sued the contractor to recover a claimed over-payment and a disgorgement of monies for unpermitted work.  The owner was NOT claiming benefit of the bargain damages, but rather, damages for the contractor’s total breach “to restore him to the position that he was in prior to entering into the contract.”

After a bench trial, the trial court found the contractor committed the first material breach by failing to obtain the required electrical and plumbing permits.  Thus, the trial court held that the contractor was only entitled to the value of the work it performed, an amount of $49,150 as determined by the owner’s expert.  The trial court then entered a judgment in favor of the owner for $40,850 which was the difference between the value of the work performed ($49,150) and what the owner had paid the contractor prior to termination ($90,000).  This was affirmed by the appellate court: “The trial court entered judgment for [the owner] to place him in the position immediately prior to the contract by returning the payments he made to [the contractor] less the quantum meruit value of [the contractor’s] work.”  Judet, supra.

 

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.

CONTRACTOR WALKS OFF JOB. WHAT ARE THE OWNER’S DAMAGES?

shutterstock_1059607865What 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.

 Forbes, supra.

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.