CONTRACTOR’S BURDEN WHEN IT COMES TO DELAY

When a contractor is challenging the assessment of liquidated damages, or arguing that it is entitled to extended general conditions, the contractor bears a burden of proof to establish there were excusable delays that impacted the critical path and, in certain scenarios, the delays were not concurrent with contractor-caused delay:

When delays are excusable, a contractor is entitled to a time extension, such that the government may not assess liquidated damages for those delays.  The government bears the initial burden of proving that the contractor failed to meet the contract completion date, and that the period of time for which the government assessed liquidated damages was correct. If the government makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the contractor to show that its failure to timely complete the work was excusable. To show an excusable delay, a contractor must show that the delay resulted from “unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor.”  “In addition, the unforeseeable cause must delay the overall contract completion; i.e., it must affect the critical path of performance.” Further, the contractor must show that there was no concurrent delay.

Ken Laster Co., ASBCA No. 61292, 2020 WL 5270322 (ASBCA 2020) (internal citations omitted).

Arguing delay without understanding your burden of proof obligations will be problematic, as the contractor in Ken Laster found out.  In this dispute, a contractor was issued task orders to repair, prepare and plaint certain floating structures pursuant to task orders.  The contractor was liable for liquidated damages if it did not timely complete the work.  The contractor completed the work 289 days late and the government assessed liquidated damages.  The contractor challenged the assessment of liquidated damages. However, the contractor did NOT show how anything it claimed the government did to delay completion impacted the critical path or that there was no concurrent delay.  Without such showing, the contractor was unable to establish that liquidated damages were improper as it was unable to show there was excusable delay or that the delay to the critical path it caused was concurrent with an owner-caused delay to the critical path.

Remember, if you are a contractor challenging the assessment of liquidated damages and/or claiming you are entitled to delay damages (extended general conditions), you have a burden of proof.  You will want to establish that there was excusable delay, i.e., owner-caused delay, that impacted the critical path of the project resulting in the delay to the completion date, and the excusable delay was not concurrent with delay you caused to the completion date.  This burden will routinely require expert opinion that will need to analyze schedules and contemporaneous project documentation to render these opinions (that there was excusable delay, the delay impacted the critical path, and in certain scenarios, the excusable delay was not concurrent).   It is important to note, however, that if you are able to establish there was concurrent delay, you would still typically be entitled to a time extension, however, you would not be entitled to compensation for the delay (extended general conditions).  But, the burden is still on you to establish there was concurrent delay.

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.

 

PROVING IMPACTS TO CRITICAL PATH TO DEFEAT LIQUIDATED DAMAGES ASSESSMENT

When a contractor is staring down the barrel of an owner’s assessment of liquidated damages, the burden will fall on the contractor to establish that the delay was attributable to the owner and the owner’s agents.  The contractor will want to do this not only to defeat the assessment of liquidated damages, but because it will want to establish that the delay caused it to incur extended field overhead (general conditions) for which the owner is responsible.   A contractor supports its burden by proving the impacts to its critical path.  “In general, proving an allegation of government-caused delays without a means of showing the critical path is a steep prospect.”  James Talcott Construction v. U.S., 2019 WL 1040383, *8 (Fed. Cl. 2019) (unreported opinion) (finding that because contractor did NOT present a critical path analysis it could not support its claim for delay caused by the government).

Avoiding the assessment of liquidated damages means the contractor needs to support that it encountered excusable delay and it is/was entitled to an extension of time to complete the project.

An excusable delay is one due to causes that are unforeseeable, beyond the contractor’s control, and not resulting from its fault or negligence.  The delay must be to overall contract completion, meaning ‘it must affect the critical path of performance.’  If the failure is excusable, then appellant [contractor] would be entitled to time extensions and thus remission of LDs [liquidated damages].

Appeal of – Maruf Sharif Construction Co.,ASBCA No. 61802, 2019 WL 410470 (2019) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

A contractor presenting a critical path analysis allocating delay may become imperative when seeking remission of a liquidated damages assessment and, potentially, proving its own entitlement to extended general conditions.  Again, the burden falls on the contractor; therefore, not proving the impacts to the critical path and the excusable delay the contractor should be entitled to will likely result in the contractor failing to carry its burden.

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.

THE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT IS LATE – ALLOCATION OF DELAY

images-1The construction project is late.  Very late.  The owner is upset and notifies the contractor that it is assessing liquidated damages.   The contractor, in turn, claims that the project is late because of excusable, compensable delays and, perhaps, excusable, noncompensable delays.  This is a common and unfortunate story between an owner and contractor on any late construction project.  Now the fun begins regarding the allocation of the delay!

 

Through previous articles, I discussed that in this scenario the burden really falls on the contractor to establish that the liquidated damages were improperly assessed against it and, thus, it is entitled to additional time and/or extended general conditions as a result of excusable delays.   Naturally, this requires the contractor to develop a critical path analysis (time impact analysis) allocating the impacts / delays (and the reasons for the impacts/ delays) to the project completion date. The reason the burden really falls on the contractor is because the owner’s burden is relatively easy – the project was not complete on time pursuant to the contract and any approved changed orders. 

 

In a recent opinion, East Coast Repair & Fabrication, LLC v. U.S., 2016 WL 4224961 (E.D.Va. 2016), the court contained a very detailed and sound discussion regarding this common story between an owner and contractor.   Although this is a case involving a ship repair company overhauling and repairing a Navy  (government) vessel, the court’s discussion would apply to any late construction project and the allocation of delay to a late project.   Please take the time to read the Court’s discussion below as it lays the framework for the allocation or apportionment of delay. 

 

In the context of litigating liquidated damages assessed by the government in a construction contract, the government first must meet its initial burden of showing that “the contract performance requirements were not substantially completed by the contract completion date and that the period for which the assessment was made was proper.” Once the government has met that burden, the burden then shifts to the contractor “to show that any delays were excusable and that it should be relieved of all or part of the assessment.

In order for the contractor to carry its burden it must “demonstrate that the excusable event caused a delay to the overall completion of the contract, i.e., that the delay affected activities on the critical path” because the contractor “is entitled to only so much time extension as the excusable cause actually delayed” completion of the contract.

***

Having considered the somewhat conflicting positions taken on this issue in prior federal cases, this Court finds that the better legal interpretation regarding the proper treatment of “sequential delays” (where one party causes a delay followed by a separate-in-time delay caused by the other), is that “apportionment” should be permitted when the evidence provides a reliable basis on which to determine which party is responsible for which delay. Stated differently, the fact that the Government was solely responsible for some delays in this case…does not preclude the Government as a matter of law from recovering some amount of liquidated damages as a result of subsequent, and conceptually distinct, delays deemed to be solely the fault of ECR/Técnico [Contractor and its subcontractor].

 

As to performance delays deemed to be “concurrent,” (both parties causing a delay at the same time), the established law reveals that ECR [Contractor] is permitted to seek an extension of the project completion date for such delay, as long as the delay caused by the Government would have disrupted the “critical path” in the absence of the delay caused by the contractor. However, while ECR may seek an extension of the performance period for a concurrent delay, ECR is precluded by law from obtaining a monetary award to compensate it for “delay damages” for such delays, with the appropriate relief being only the extension of the project completion date (which, in effect, results in a day-for-day reduction of the Government’s liquidated damages claim). 

East Coast Repair & Fabrication, supra, at *13-14 (internal quotations omitted).

 

 

 

 

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.

BURDEN OF PROOF CHALLENGING ASSESSMENT OF LIQUIDATED DAMAGES

UnknownA contractor is working on a project that includes a contractual liquidated damages provision.  The liquidated damages provision says the contractor is liable for $2,000 per day in liquidated damages if the contractor does not achieve substantial completion by January 1, 2016, a date extended through agreed-upon change orders.  Substantial completion has not been achieved by this date and is not projected to be achieved until May 1, 2016.  The owner already notified the contractor that it plans to assess liquidated damages and such assessment will be deducted from the contractor’s payment (retainage payment application). 

 

When it comes to liquidated damages, who has the burden of proof: the owner or the contractor? 

 

The owner’s burden is actually quite simple. It is merely a burden of persuasion.  All the owner has to do is establish that the project was not substantially completed in accordance with the contract and any approved extensions of time.  Typically, an easy burden of persuasion.

 

This shifts the burden of proof to the contractor challenging the assessment of liquidated damages to establish that the owner was the cause of delays to the substantial completion date (or other contractual date triggering the enforcement of liquidated damages) (e.g., design errors, change orders, change order directives, permit delays, differing site conditions, etc.).  See, e.g., PCL Const. Services, Inc. v. U.S., 53 Fed.Cl. 479 (2002) (government has initial burden of persuasion showing contract was not completed on time shifting burden of proof to contractor to establish excusable delays); accord K-Con Bldg. Systems, Inc. v. U.S., 97 Fed.Cl. 41 (2011) (contractor failed to establish owner caused delays precluding the owner from assessing liquidated damages); Carrothers Const. Co. v. City of S. Hutchinson, 755, 207 P.3d 231, 241 (Kan. 2009) (“By placing the burden of proof on the party challenging a liquidated damages clause, we promote a public policy favoring settlement and avoidance of litigation, and allowing parties to make, and live by, their own contracts.”); TAL Fin. Corp. v. CSC Consulting, Inc., 844 N.E.2d 1085, 1092 (Mass. 2006) (“The burden of proof regarding the enforceability of a liquidated damages clause, therefore, should rest squarely on the party seeking to set it aside.”).  

 

When you sign a construction contract with a liquidated damages provision, understand the application of this provision if the project is not completed in accordance with the provision.  Make sure to ask for and document extensions of time and excusable delays.  In other words, preserve your rights under any notice provisions in the contract asking for extensions of time or notifying the owner of scheduling impacts.  Also, consult with a scheduling consultant, as may be necessary, to analyze the critical path of the schedule to isolate excusable delay and any concurrent delay establishing that although the project was late there were events or issues that would reduce or fully negate the number of days the owner is assessing liquidated damages for.

 

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.

 

 

“NO DAMAGE FOR DELAY” PROVISIONS AND THE EXCEPTIONS

UnknownContractors and subcontractors should be familiar with “no damage for delay” provisions.  These are contractual provisions that limit the contractor’s remedies for a delay to an extension of time ONLY, and disallow the contractor from being entitled to extended general conditions (overhead) for an otherwise excusable, compensable delay.   

 

There are numerous variations of the “no damage for delay” provision; however they usually contain language that provides as follows:

 

“The contractor’s sole and exclusive remedy for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work shall be an extension of time and contractor shall not be entitled to any damages for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work.”

 

 or

 

“The contractor shall not be entitled to any compensation whatsoever for any delay, interference, hindrance, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work and its sole and exclusive remedy for any delay, interference, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work shall be an extension of time.”

 

In Florida, “no damage for delay” provisions are enforceable on private and public projects.  However, there are EXCEPTIONS that would prevent the provision’s harsh application and entitle a contractor to its extended general conditions for an excusable, compensable delay.  These exceptions are fraud, willful concealment of foreseeable circumstances, and active interferenceSee Triple R Paving, Inc. v. Broward County, 774 So.2d 50 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).  In other words, if the hiring party (owner) does not willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the application of the “no damage for delay” provision will preclude the hired party (contractor) from recovering its extended general conditions associated with the delay.  See id.  On the other hand, if the hiring party does willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the hired party has an argument around the “no damage for delay” provision.

 

Even with a “no damage for delay” provision in the contract, it is imperative for the hired party (contractor) to properly and timely request additional time and money in accordance with the contract.  There are typically provisions that require the hired party (contractor) to notify the hiring party (owner) of delaying events or claims and to request time and money associated with the event or claim.  If a contractor fails to timely preserve its rights under the contract to seek additional time or money, it may preclude itself from recovering extended general conditions for a delay that would otherwise serve as an exception to the “no damage for delay” provision.  See Marriot Corp. v. Dasta Const. Co., 26 F.3d 1057 (11th Cir. 1994) (contractor’s failure to request time pursuant to the contract prevented it from recovering delay damages associated with an owner’s active interference).

 

On federal construction projects, “no damage for delay” provisions are perhaps less common based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (F.A.R.) that would otherwise entitle the contractor to recover delay-related damages if it properly and timely preserves its rights.  These “no damage for delay” provisions are more frequently found in subcontracts between the prime contractor and its subcontractors.  There is authority that would hold an unambiguous “no damage for delay” enforceable on federal construction projects:

 

Nevertheless, given their potentially harsh effect, no damages for delay provisions should be strictly construed, but generally will be enforced, absent delay (1) not contemplated by the parties under the provision, (2) lasting an unreasonable period and thereby amounted to an abandonment of the contract, (3) caused by fraud or bad faith, or (4) amounting to active interference or gross negligence.

Appeal of-The Clark Construction Group, Inc., GAOCAB No. 2003-1, 2004 WL 5462234 (November 23, 2004); accord Grunley Construction Co. v. Architect of the Capitol, GAOCAB No. 2009-1, 2010 WL 2561431 (June 16, 2010).

 

In drafting a “no damage for delay” provision, I always like to include language that specifically states that the application of the “no damage for delay” provision is not conditioned on the hired party (contractor) being granted additional time to substantially complete or finally complete the project.  I also like to include language that the hired party (contractor) understands this “no damage for delay” provision and has factored this provision into the contract amount.  It is important that this provision clearly reflects the intent because the hiring party will want to rely on this provision in the event there is a delaying event and it is a provision that will be strictly construed.

 

Conversely, if you trying to avoid the harsh consequences of a “no damage for delay” provision, it is advisable to consult with counsel that understands the recognized exceptions to the provision and can assist you in negotiating and presenting your claim based on these recognized exceptions.

 

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.

 

RECOVERING COMPENSATION FOR UNREASONABLE DELAYS UNDER THE SUSPENSION OF WORK CLAUSE

UnknownFederal government construction contracts for fixed-price contracts contain a suspension of work clause found in F.A.R. 52.242-14 (a copy of this clause can be found at the bottom of this posting).   This clause allows the government, through the contracting officer, to order the suspension, interruption, or delay of the construction work.  This clause further permits the contractor to obtain an equitable adjustment for the increased costs it incurs associated with the delay / suspension of its work for an unreasonable period of time. George Sollitt Const. Co. v. U.S., 64 Fed.Cl. 229, 236-37 (Fed.Cl. 2005).  The unreasonableness of the delay / suspension depends on the actual circumstances of the project, but it is this finding of unreasonableness that triggers additional compensation to the contractor.  See id.   The test applied to determine whether the contractor is entitled to an equitable adjustment for additional compensation pursuant to the suspension of work clause is as follows:

 

 

 

 

1.  The delay must be of an unreasonable length extending the contract’s performance;
2.  The delay must be proximately caused by the government;
3.  The delay resulted in injury or damage to the contractor; and
4.  There is no concurrent delay caused by the contractor.

 

CEMS, Inc. v. U.S., 59 Fed.Cl. 168, 230 (Fed.Cl. 2003) quoting P.J. Dick, Inc. v. Principi, 324 F.3d 1364, 1375 (Fed.Cir. 2003).

 

As reflected above by the fourth factor, “even if the government has caused an unreasonable delay to the contract work, that delay will not be compensable if the contractor, or some other factor not chargeable to the government, has caused a delay concurrent with the government caused-delay.”  George Sollitt, 64 Fed.Cl. at 237.

 

This suspension of work clause is designed to make the contractor whole for unreasonable delays, but additional profit would be excluded from any additional compensation owed to the contractor.  See F.A.R. 52.242-14(b).

 

As mentioned in previous postings, contractors need to understand the clauses incorporated into their prime contract so they can appreciate how to best preserve their rights when they encounter a delaying event.  Also, understanding the clauses will enable the contractor to best present their request for equitable adjustment or claim in a manner that supports their position for additional compensation.

 

F.A.R. 52.242-14

Suspension of Work (APR 1984)

(a) The Contracting Officer may order the Contractor, in writing, to suspend, delay, or interrupt all or any part of the work of this contract for the period of time that the Contracting Officer determines appropriate for the convenience of the Government.

(b) If the performance of all or any part of the work is, for an unreasonable period of time, suspended, delayed, or interrupted (1) by an act of the Contracting Officer in the administration of this contract, or (2) by the Contracting Officer’s failure to act within the time specified in this contract (or within a reasonable time if not specified), an adjustment shall be made for any increase in the cost of performance of this contract (excluding profit) necessarily caused by the unreasonable suspension, delay, or interruption, and the contract modified in writing accordingly. However, no adjustment shall be made under this clause for any suspension, delay, or interruption to the extent that performance would have been so suspended, delayed, or interrupted by any other cause, including the fault or negligence of the Contractor, or for which an equitable adjustment is provided for or excluded under any other term or condition of this contract.

(c) A claim under this clause shall not be allowed (1) for any costs incurred more than 20 days before the Contractor shall have notified the Contracting Officer in writing of the act or failure to act involved (but this requirement shall not apply as to a claim resulting from a suspension order), and (2) unless the claim, in an amount stated, is asserted in writing as soon as practicable after the termination of the suspension, delay, or interruption, but not later than the date of final payment under the contract.

 

 

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.

DELAY, DELAY AND MORE DELAY! EXCUSABLE OR NON-EXCUSABLE?

imagesThe word “delay” is an all too familiar word utilized during construction because it is not remotely uncommon for a construction project to experience delays.  While contractors never want a delay to actually happen because time is money, delays unfortunately do happen as construction schedules are not written in stone.

 

There are two types of delay: (1) non-excusable delay (or inexcusable delay) and (2) excusable delay.

 

Non-excusable delay is the type of delay that contractors never want to hear.  This is the delay solely caused by them and may trigger the owner’s assessment of liquidated damages.  Not only this, but this type of delay will not entitle the contractor to additional time or compensation.  Why? Because again, the delay was caused by the contractor, hence the reason why it is the type of delay a contractor never wants to hear!

 

Excusable delay is not the fault of the contractor and is the type delay that will entitle the contractor to additional time, additional compensation, or both.  Excusable delay is further broken down into (a) compensable, excusable delay (entitling the contractor to additional compensation and time) and (b) non-compensable, excusable delay (entitling the contractor to additional time, but not additional compensation).

 

Excusable, compensable delay is a delay solely caused by the owner or its consultants and is not caused by the contractor.  This is the good type of delay in the sense that it should entitle the contractor to additional time to substantially complete the project and, based upon the contract, additional compensation in the form of extended general conditions.  This type of delay could be the result of owner-directed changes, differing site conditions, design revisions, suspension of performance, i.e., actions that are outside of the contractor’s control but within the owner and its agents’ control.

 

Excusable, non-compensable delay, on the other hand, is typically your force majeure delay including unusually severe weather conditions, fire, or labor strikes—these are the types of delay that are beyond any parties’ control in the construction process, which is why the contractor would be entitled to additional time, but not additional money.

 

The contractor claiming excusable delay has the burden of proving the delaySee R.P. Wallace, Inc. v. U.S., 63 Fed.Cl. 402, 409 (Fed.Cir. 2004) (“The contractor must prove that the excusable event proximately caused a delay to the overall completion of the contract, i.e., that the delay affected activities on the critical path.”).  For this reason, it is important that the contractor well-document the cause of the delay including how the delay impacted its critical path, and provide timely notice under the contract regarding the event causing the delay.

 

Now, construction contracts contain may contain a “no damage for delay” clause that is designed to prevent the contractor from being entitled to extended general conditions for excusable, compensable delay.  Basically, if there is an excusable delay, the contractor’s sole and exclusive remedy is an extension of time and not extended general conditions.  The “no damage for delay” provision is enforceable in many jurisdictions.  While there are certain recognized exceptions to the application of an enforceable “no damage for delay” provision (e.g., fraud, active interference), a contractor agreeing to such a provision certainly cannot operate on the premise that it will argue around it in the event of an excusable, compensable delay.  Rather, the contractor needs to operate on the premise that it is assuming a certain risk that a delay could be caused by the owner or the owner’s agents and the contractor’s sole remedy for the delay is more time to substantially complete the project.

 

The objective for any contractor is to understand what the legal implications and consequences are for delays on a construction project, whether an excusable delay or non-excusable delay.  Some tidbits for contractors to absolutely consider on the front-end and prior to the execution of the contract include:

 

  • Does the contract define excusable delay that would entitle the contractor to additional time and/or money?  For instance, in government contracting, the prime contract may incorporate Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.249.10 and 52.249.14 regarding excusable delay, as set forth below.
  • Is there a “no-damage-for-delay” provision in the contract?
  • What are the notice provisions to ensure the contractor is timely providing notice for the cause of the delaying event? Notice should always be given even if the full impact of the delay is unknown. Many contracts contain onerous language that if notice is not given with “x” number of days after the delaying event, the contractor waives any and all claims for delay.  Watch out for this!
  • Does the contractor have appropriate language in its subcontracts that will enable it to flow-down damages associated with non-excusable delay (the owner’s assessment of liquidated damages and the contractor’s own extended general conditions)?
  • Does the contractor have an experienced scheduling consultant or scheduler that can capture the delaying event to show the event impacted the critical path?

 

 

52.249-10    Default (Fixed–Price Construction) (APR 1984)

(a) If the Contractor refuses or fails to prosecute the work or any separable part, with the diligence that will insure its completion within the time specified in this contract including any extension, or fails to complete the work within this time, the Government may, by written notice to the Contractor, terminate the right to proceed with the work (or the separable part of the work) that has been delayed. In this event, the Government may take over the work and complete it by contract or otherwise, and may take possession of and use any materials, appliances, and plant on the work site necessary for completing the work. The Contractor and its sureties shall be liable for any damage to the Government resulting from the Contractor’s refusal or failure to complete the work within the specified time, whether or not the Contractor’s right to proceed with the work is terminated. This liability includes any increased costs incurred by the Government in completing the work.

(b) The Contractor’s right to proceed shall not be terminated nor the Contractor charged with damages under this clause, if–

(1) The delay in completing the work arises from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor. Examples of such causes include (i) acts of God or of the public enemy, (ii) acts of the Government in either its sovereign or contractual capacity, (iii) acts of another Contractor in the performance of a contract with the Government, (iv) fires, (v) floods, (vi) epidemics, (vii) quarantine restrictions, (viii) strikes, (ix) freight embargoes, (x) unusually severe weather, or (xi) delays of subcontractors or suppliers at any tier arising from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of both the Contractor and the subcontractors or suppliers; and

(2) The Contractor, within 10 days from the beginning of any delay (unless extended by the Contracting Officer), notifies the Contracting Officer in writing of the causes of delay. The Contracting Officer shall ascertain the facts and the extent of delay. If, in the judgment of the Contracting Officer, the findings of fact warrant such action, the time for completing the work shall be extended. The findings of the Contracting Officer shall be final and conclusive on the parties, but subject to appeal under the Disputes clause.

(c) If, after termination of the Contractor’s right to proceed, it is determined that the Contractor was not in default, or that the delay was excusable, the rights and obligations of the parties will be the same as if the termination had been issued for the convenience of the Government.

(d) The rights and remedies of the Government in this clause are in addition to any other rights and remedies provided by law or under this contract.

See also F.A.R. 52.249-14 (regarding bolded language).

 

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.

TIME EXTENSIONS FOR “UNUSUALLY SEVERE WEATHER” ON FEDERAL PROJECTS

imagesWhat do you do if you encounter unusually severe weather? A time extension for unusually severe weather conditions is set forth under the default clause (such as 48 CFR 52.249-10) included in federal government construction contracts.

 

The clause typically provides in pertinent part:

 

“(a) If the Contractor refuses or fails to prosecute the work or any separable part, with the diligence that will insure its completion within the time specified in this contract including any extension, or fails to complete the work within this time, the Government may, by written notice to the Contractor, terminate the right to proceed with the work (or the separable part of the work) that has been delayed. In this event, the Government may take over the work and complete it by contract or otherwise, and may take possession of and use any materials, appliances, and plant on the work site necessary for completing the work. The Contractor and its sureties shall be liable for any damage to the Government resulting from the Contractor’s refusal or failure to complete the work within the specified time, whether or not the Contractor’s right to proceed with the work is terminated. This liability includes any increased costs incurred by the Government in completing the work.

(b) The Contractor’s right to proceed shall not be terminated nor the Contractor charged with damages under this clause, if

(1) The delay in completing the work arises from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor. Examples of such causes include (i) acts of God or of the public enemy, (ii) acts of the Government in either its sovereign or contractual capacity, (iii) acts of another Contractor in the performance of a contract with the Government, (iv) fires, (v) floods, (vi) epidemics, (vii) quarantine restrictions, (viii) strikes, (ix) freight embargoes, (x) unusually severe weather, or (xi) delays of subcontractors or suppliers at any tier arising from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of both the Contractor and the subcontractors or suppliers; and

(2) The Contractor, within 10 days from the beginning of any delay (unless extended by the Contracting Officer), notifies the Contracting Officer in writing of the causes of delay. The Contracting Officer shall ascertain the facts and the extent of delay. If, in the judgment of the Contracting Officer, the findings of fact warrant such action, the time for completing the work shall be extended. The findings of the Contracting Officer shall be final and conclusive on the parties, but subject to appeal under the Disputes clause.” 

48 CFR 52.249-10; see also 48 CFR 52.249-14 (regarding unusually severe weather as an excusable delay).

 

As reflected above, unusually severe weather is an excusable delay that will entitle the contractor to additional time to peform, but not additional compensation. However, not every weather event amounts to unusually severe weather. In order to be entitled to an extension of time for weather conditions, the contractor must produce evidence of the unusually severe weather event that it contends entitles it to additional time to perform. Edge Const. Co., Inc. v. U.S., 95 Fed. Cl. 407, 420 (Fed.Cl. 2010). “Unusually severe weather must be construed to mean adverse weather which at the time of year in which it occurred is unusual for the place in which it occurred. This condition is not established simply because weather charts may indicate that on a certain day the precipitation is greater than on some other days in some other year, since variance in weather patters is to be expected.” Broome Const., Inc. v. U.S., 492 F.2d 829, 835 (Ct.Cl. 1974). “Thus, unusually severe weather is determined based on a comparison of the conditions experienced by the contractor and the weather conditions of prior years.” Edge Const., 95 Fed.Cl. at 420.  Without proving that unusually severe weather impacted performance, the “delay was anticipated and agreed to by the parties…the Government [owner] is not obligated to anticipate acts of God and abnormal conditions that might interfere with contract performance. It is supposed that bidders allow for this in their bids.” Broome Const., 492 F.2d at 835.

 

Proving that there was unusually severe weather oftentimes requires providing weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) (sometimes in conjunction with expert testimony). NOAA is a federal agency that maintains past weather data and generates future weather forecasts. Sometimes there is an actual weather clause in the contract that provides baseline weather conditions for the project location obtained from NOAA to be used as a baseline for weather time evaluations.

 

The key is that if a contractor experiences an unusually severe weather condition that impacts its performance, it has the burden to support this weather condition (again, typically with data from NOAA) and timely notify the government / owner of the weather condition. A major reason to do this is that the contractor will want the time extension in order to extend the substantial completion date of the project which is the date that triggers the government’s assessment of liquidated damages if the contract is not substantially completed / performed by a specified date.

 

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.

ACCELERATION COSTS MONEY

UnknownContractors know or should know the concept of acceleration because acceleration costs money. Acceleration occurs when a contractor expedites its performance due to an excusable delay (a delay not its fault) in order complete its performance earlier than it would have considering the delay.

 

Contractors accelerate by incurring increased labor costs to work overtime and premium time (nights and weekends), adding more manpower, or adding more crews (which also may mean adding more supervision to supervise the additional labor). These added labor costs are typically direct payroll costs (factoring in labor burden) as well as equipment costs associated with operating the equipment (especially if it is owned equipment) for longer hours or renting additional equipment to be utilized by the additional manpower or crews. In addition, acceleration can result in inefficient labor hours because manpower is now working longer hours, new manpower is added and there is a learning curve associated with new manpower that is not familiar with the work, and the labor is potentially working under resequenced conditions and in congested locations with other trades. Thus, just because the contractor takes reasonable efforts to accelerate does not mean that it is incurring efficient / productive labor costs or that its acceleration efforts are substantially improving the completion date of the project.

 

There are two types of acceleration claims. The first type is the straightforward direct acceleration claim when the government/owner directs the contractor to accelerate its performance to finish the job in advance of the completion date. Many times, in this circumstance, the government/owner understands that it will need to compensate the contractor for the acceleration efforts.

 

Constructive acceleration is the other type of acceleration claim and the type more likely to lead to a dispute because the dispute centers around both entitlement and quantum. Constructive acceleration occurs where the contractor seeks additional time to complete the project due to what it claims are excusable delays, but the government/owner is unwilling to grant the contractor the additional time. To prove construction acceleration, the contractor needs to prove:

 

  1. there was a delay that was not its fault (an excusable delay) that impacted the completion date;
  2. the contractor notified the government/owner of the delay and requested additional time to complete its performance;
  3. the government/owner expressly directed the contractor to overcome the delay and complete the project in a shorter amount of time than the contractor was entitled to factoring in the delay or implicitly directed the contractor to overcome the delay through the refusal to grant additional time; and
  4. the contractor did in fact incur costs in accelerating its performance.

See Armour of America v. U.S., 96 Fed.Cl. 726, 757 (Fed.Cl. 2011) (“To prove a constructive acceleration claim, and entitlement to an equitable adjustment, which Armour [contractor] did not attempt to do during the proceedings before the court, a contractor must show (1) that the contractor encountered a delay that was excusable; (2) that the contractor requested from the government an extension of time due to the delay; (3) that the government denied the contractor’s request for an extension of time; (4) that the government demanded completion of the contract in a shorter amount of time than the contractor was entitled to, given the excusable delay; and (5) that the contractor was required to expend additional resources to adhere to the schedule on which the government insisted.”). See also Fraser Const. Co. v. U.S., 384 F.3d 1354 (Fed.Cl. 2004).

 

 

What is important to remember is not only will the contractor need to prove the excusable delay that impacted its schedule, but it will need to prove it notified the government/owner of the delay and requested additional time to perform which was denied. After proving all of this, the contractor will still need to establish that it actually accelerated its performance and incurred costs in doing so.

 

As a basic example, assume a project was to be completed December 31, 2014. This marked the date the owner needed to use the project for its intended purpose. However, due to excusable delays (assume many owner-directed change orders and/or design-related issues), this completion date is postponed a year to December 31, 2015. The contractor notified the owner of the delays and impacts to its schedule and requested an extension of time to complete the project; but, for whatever reason, the owner refused to grant additional time and implicitly demanded that the contractor complete the project on schedule. The contractor, as the result of the owner’s refusal to grant additional time, accelerated its performance to finish the project earlier than December 31, 2015 and to avoid the consequence of the owner assessing liquidated damages (i.e., the contractor accelerated to mitigate the impact of the delay). Based on the contractor and its subcontractor’s efforts, the project was completed on May 30, 2015–5 months after the original completion date, but 7 months before the contractor should have been complete considering the excusable delays. In this basic example, the contractor’s acceleration efforts mitigated the overall delay by approximately 7 months (the difference between May 30, 2015 and December 31, 2015) even though the contractor finished 5 months later than the original schedule. The contractor will need to prove the costs associated with these acceleration efforts.

 

It is good practice for contractors to work with attorneys and experts to preserve the acceleration claim and prove the excusable delays through a critical path schedule analysis and the costs incurred in accelerating performance.

 

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.