DIFFICULT TASK FOR COURT TO ANALYZE DELAY AND DISORDER ON CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

One of my favorites quotes from a case, and I am sure others in the construction industry feel the same way or can relate, is from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Blake Construction Co., Inc. v. C.J. Coakley Co., Inc., 431 A.2d 569, 575 (D.C. 1981):

We note parenthetically and at the outset that, except in the middle of a battlefield, nowhere must men coordinate the movement of other men and all materials in the midst of such chaos and with such limited certainty of present facts and future occurrences as in a huge construction project such as the building of this 100 million dollar hospital. Even the most painstaking planning frequently turns out to be mere conjecture and accommodation to changes must necessarily be of the rough, quick and ad hoc sort, analogous to ever-changing commands on the battlefield. Further, it is a difficult task for a court to be able to examine testimony and evidence in the quiet of a courtroom several years later concerning such confusion and then extract from them a determination of precisely when the disorder and constant readjustment, which is to be expected by any subcontractor on a job site, become so extreme, so debilitating and so unreasonable as to constitute a breach of contract between a contractor and a subcontractor. 

Do you agree with this sentiment?  The reality is that retrospectively analyzing delay on a complicated construction project with numerous moving parts on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, basis is no easy feat.  It is not easy for the parties and certainly not easy for courts to unravel. With every party claiming delay based on a retrospective analysis there will be another party with either a different delay analysis or providing credible cross examination as to flaws with the delay analysis.  The same bodes true with loss of productivity / inefficiency claims and the particular case-specific facts are important, preferably with evidence such as photos, videos, notifications, daily reports, manpower reports, etc., supporting the facts. But the facts are complicated, and the delay analysis is complicated, and it is a difficult task for a trier of fact to unravel these facts.

This case dealt with a dispute between a prime contractor and a fireproofing subcontractor. The subcontractor claimed its work was hindered for a variety of reasons.  In other words, the subcontractor was impeded from working efficiently and it was incurring unanticipated costs – the hallmark of a lost productivity or inefficiency claim.  The subcontractor sent notice to the prime contractor that it would be suspending its operations and did exactly that resulting in the prime contractor completing the subcontractor’s scope of fireproofing work.  A lawsuit arose and the trial court found the prime contractor liable to the subcontractor.   The trial court found the prime contractor breached implicit obligations in the subcontract as it (i) did not provide the subcontractor a clear and convenient work area that impeded the subcontractor’s work causing the subcontractor to incur additional sums, (ii) failed to reasonably sequence the work, and (iii) provided bad supervision as other trades damaged in-place fireproofing due to poor scheduling and certain space heaters belonging to the subcontractor were stolen.  See Blake Construction, supra, at 576-77 (“We are persuaded therefore that the trial judge properly concluded upon this record that these acts collectively and individually constituted a breach of implicit conditions for performance by [the prime contractor] under the subcontract.”).

The appellate court also agreed with the trial court as to the inapplicability of the no-damage-for-delay provision in the subcontract finding delays resulted from active interference “largely due to [the prime contractor’s] improper work sequencing.”  Blake Construction, supra, at 579.

The appellate court also found that the measure of damages to be awarded to the subcontractor from the prime contractor “is properly calculated by taking the cost of partial performance incurred [by the subcontractor], which was $598,666.75, and subcontracting therefrom the payment received to date by [the subcontractor] from [the prime contractor], which totaled $242,100. The difference between these two figures is $356,566.75, and constitutes the damages for which [the prime contractor is] liable to [the subcontractor].”  Blake Construction, supra, at 579.

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.

 

THE VALUE OF A WELL-WRITTEN SUBCONTRACT TO FORECLOSE SUBCONTRACTOR’S INEFFICIENCY / LOST PRODUCTIVITY DAMAGES

 imagesI have previously discussed the challenges a subcontractor has in proving a lost productivity / inefficiency claim.  Besides being difficult to prove, subcontractors generally enter into subcontracts that include onerous provisions that foreclose a subcontractor’s right to pursue lost productivity / inefficiency claims.   General contractors try to account for these types of delay-related claims by including provisions in their subcontracts that require subcontractors to fully bear this risk.  An example of this ocurrence can be found in the opinion entered in Electrical Contractors, Inc. v.  Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, 2015 WL 1444481 (D. Con. 2015) where the trial court precluded a subcontractor from recovering lost productivity / inefficiency costs based on the language in the subcontract that precluded such claims. Additionally, and importantly, the trial court found that that the subcontractor failed to timely notify the general contractor of its claims under the strict notice provisions of the subcontract.

 

In this case, the general contractor was hired by a state agency to construct a laboratory building and furnished the state a public payment bond.  The prime contract contained a construction schedule (which is not an uncommon exhibit in a prime contract).  The general contractor then entered into subcontracts with trade subcontractors including the electrical subcontractor.  An exhibit to the electrical subcontract was a schedule that simply reproduced dates applicable to the electrical subcontractor’s scope of work that were included in the construction schedule attached to the prime contract.

 

No different than any baseline construction schedule on any construction project, it was not written in stone. This meant there were updates to the schedule that were furnished to the state agency and the state agency unsurprisingly challenged or opposed numerous schedule updates. The general contractor did not keep its electrical subcontractor apprised of the back-and-forth between it and the state agency involving schedule updates (nor was the general contractor under any real obligation to do so).

 

And, as we all know, the schedule of the project is really driven in the field.  So, as the construction progressed, the general contractor’s superintendents directed the electrical subcontractor to perform work in a piecemeal and unsystematic manner. This was due to work areas not being ready for the electrical scope due to delays on the project.  The electrical subcontractor notified the general contractor that it was being impacted and forced to work unproductively. Thereafter, the electrical subcontractor sued the general contractor and the general contractor’s payment bond sureties for damages that included lost productivity / inefficiency damages. 

 

However, the subcontract that the electrical subcontractor signed posed problems with its claims, particularly the following contractual provisions:

 

“Subcontractor agrees to … complete the work in such sequence and order and according to such schedules as Contractor shall establish from time to time … time being of the essence…. If Contractor determines that the Subcontractor is behind schedule or will not be able to maintain the schedule, Subcontractor … shall work overtime, shift work, or work in an altered sequence, if deemed necessary, in the judgment of the Contractor to maintain the progress of the work. Any such … altered sequence work required to maintain progress or to complete the work on a timely basis shall be at Subcontractor’s expense and shall not entitle Subcontractor to … additional compensation.”

***

 

 

“To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, Contractor shall have the right at any time to delay or suspend the work or any part thereof without incurring liability therefore. An extension of time shall be the sole and exclusive remedy of Subcontractor for any delays or suspensions suffered by Subcontractorand Subcontractor shall have no right to seek or recover from Contractor any damages or losses, whether direct or indirect, arising from or related to any delay or acceleration to overcome delay, and/or any impact or effect of such delays on the Work.”

***

 

 

“In the interest of the overall project, W–T [Contractor] reserves the right to alter the sequencing of activities in order to accommodate project conditions and/or Owner requirements. It is understood that the Subcontractor shall be obligated to complete its activities [timely] … regardless of the actual start date.”

***

 

 

There is no guarantee of continuous work. Subcontractor shall work in all areas as they become available and as directed by Whiting–Turner [Contractor]. Subcontractor shall include the inefficiencies, supervision and manpower necessary to run separate and independent crews as necessary.”

 

Electrical Contractors, Inc., supra, at *6 and *7.

 

Additionally, the electrical subcontractor needed to timely notify the general contractor of its claims:

 

“Article 6(d) requires timely written notice as a precondition for making such claims: [N]otice in writing shall be given to the Contractor no later than seven (7) days following the occurrence on which such claim is based…. Any claim not presented within such time period shall be deemed waived by Subcontractor. The notice must describe the dispute, controversy or claim in detail so as to allow Contractor to review its merits … [and] provide detailed information to substantiate such claim including supporting documentation and calculations.”

 

Electrical Contractors, Inc., supra, at *8 (internal citations omitted).

 

While the 7-day claim notice requirement may seem unfair, the court explained that the electrical contractor was a sophisticated entity that knowingly assumed this notice obligation.

 

Of Significance: 

 

These subcontract provisions recited above are not uncommon provisions.  They are rather commonplace with sophisticated contractors–there is no real shock value when looking at these provisions, right?

 

 

If you are a general contractor that includes such provisions in your subcontracts, this case gives you reassurance as to those contractual provisions that are aimed to insulate you from a subcontractor’s delay-related damage and require the subcontractor to give you timely notification of a claim (so that you are not prejudiced by the late submission of a subcontractor claim).  These are important provisions for a general contractor to include in a subcontract and the provisions referenced above are certainly well-written provisions to model.  It is understood that a schedule is never going to be written in stone and there will be logic and sequence changes in the schedule, so protect yourself by including such provisions (including the no-damage-for-delay provision). As you can see, there is value in doing so.

 

On the other hand, if you are a subcontractor, if you accept these provisions, you need to either account for these risks in your subcontract price and/or bear the risk that these provisions may be appropriately enforced against you as shown in this case.  Alternatively, and as the court alluded to, as a sophisticated party, you have the option of not signing the subcontract or trying to negotiate the best subcontract for you with an understanding as to those onerous provisions and risks that you choose to accept.

 

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.

 

WALKING THAT MEASURED MILE TO PROVE AND CALCULATE LOST PRODUCTIVITY / INEFFICIENCY

UnknownWhat is a lost productivity / inefficiency claim?  These are claims where a contractor claims it incurred increased labor (and, perhaps, equipment usage) because an event  (referred to as an impact) caused it to work inefficiently.  There needs to be a causal link between the cause of the impact and the increased labor costs.  See Appeals of—Fox Construction, Inc., ASBCA No. 55265, 08-1 BCPA 33810 (March 5, 2008).   Numerous factors can contribute to a contractor working inefficiently.  Oftentimes these claims are asserted by subcontractors associated with a delay to their scope of work or due to the manner in which the subcontractor’s work was sequenced.  The bottom line is that some impact (not attributable to the contractor asserting the claim) caused the contractor to work inefficiently and incur unplanned, increased labor cost (and/or equipment usage).

 

Lost productivity / inefficiency claims are very challenging claims to prove and calculate.  They require expert testimony to analyze cost reports, labor hours, and project documentation such as daily reports, etc. to determine the performance or production rate for a given scope of work.   But, remember, lost productivity / inefficiency claims also require a causal link between the impact and the increased costs meaning an expert needs to analyze project documentation to determine the impact and the causal link to the contractor’s increased costs.  Probably the most well received method to prove lost productivity / inefficiency is the measured mile methodology.

 

Measured Mile

 

The measured mile compares a period of productive work (the good period) with an unproductive period of the same work (bad period). “The measured mile approach provides a comparison of a production period that is impacted by a disruption with a production period that is not impacted.” Appeal of Bay West, Inc., ASBCA No. 54166, 07-1 BCA 33569 (April 25, 2007).  The period of productive work forms the contractor’s benchmark period of productivity.  Typically, this benchmark productivity is based on the number of man-hours during the productive period divided by the performance or production rate in that period to determine a productivity ratio.  This productivity ratio is compared to the productivity ratio during the impacted period in order to determine an unproductivity ratio that is multiplied by the unproductive performance or production rate to determine the number of unproductive man-hours.  Without determining a benchmark, the measured mile cannot be performed because there is nothing to compare the unproductive period of work to.

 

For instance, let’s take a rough hypothetical: 

 

Good Period — A contractor during a productive period installs 2500 feet  (or select another unit of production or performance) of “x” (you select the scope).  It takes the contractor 4000 labor hours to install 2500 feet of “x.” The number of labor hours (4000) divided by the production (2500 feet of “x”) gives a productivity ratio of 1.6. 

 

Bad Period — The same contractor gets impacted performing the same scope of “x.”  During this impacted period, the contractor installs 1500 feet of “x” with 4600 labor hours.  The number of labor hours (4600) divided by the production (1500 feet of “x”) gives a productivity ratio of 3.07. 

 

Calculating Lost Productivity — Subtracting the productivity ratio during the bad impacted period (3.07) with the productivity ratio during the good unimpacted period (1.6) gives an unproductivity ratio of 1.47.  This unproductivity ratio now allows you to determine the number of unproductive man-hours by multiplying the unproductivity ratio (1.47) by the unproductive performance (1500 feet of “x”) to give you 2205 unproductive man-hours.  The number of unproductive man-hours would then be multiplied by a supported labor rate plus burden to give you your unproductivity costs.

 

If you are experiencing lost productivity / inefficiency, it is good practice to consult with a lawyer and expert in order to best prove and calculate your lost productivity / inefficiency.  Although this article focuses on the measured mile methodology, there are other methodologies that can be utilized based on the facts and circumstances of the project.    Just remember, these types of claims generally require expert testimony to prove.

 

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.

 

CHALLENGES USING THE TOTAL COST OR MODIFIED TOTAL COST METHODS TO PROVE DELAY / LOST PRODUCTIVITY DAMAGES

imagesSubcontractor delay claims are oftentimes in the form of lost productivity / inefficiency claims.  These claims are premised in large part on additional, unanticipated field labor / manpower or equipment usage that was incurred due to an event that impacted the subcontractor’s performance. 

 

One way a subcontractor proves these damages is through a total cost or modified total cost method comparing its actual costs to its bid, with a portion of the cost overrun forming the subcontractor’s damages. This methodology, however, is not always a favored methodology because it is not the most reliable way to prove cost overruns.  Courts typically prefer parties to itemize the direct costs incurred by an impact, but this is not always practical on a complex construction project.

 

The opinion in Hill York Service Corp. v. Critchfield Mechanical, Inc., 2015 WL 410009 (S.D.Fla. 2015) illustrates the challenges in proving lost productivity / inefficiency with the total cost or modified total cost methodology.  In this case, a mechanical subcontractor subcontracted a portion of its scope of mechanical work to another subcontractor (the “Sub-subcontractor”).   The Sub-subcontractor sued the mechanical subcontractor for delays causing it to incur, among other damages, additional, unanticipated manpower. The mechanical subcontractor moved for a summary judgment to preclude the Sub-subcontractor from using the total cost or modified total cost method to prove its delay / inefficiency damages.

 

The opinion provides a good discussion on the total cost and modified total cost methodology:

 

The modified total cost approach is a variation of the total cost approach. Under the total cost approach,  the original bid cost is subtracted from the actual cost of the entire project. Essentially, the difference between the two amounts, after various modifications and adjustments, is the amount of damages incurred as a result of the owner or construction manager’s breach. The modified total cost approach allows for the adjustment of the amount calculated under the total cost approach to compensate for bid errors, specific costs arising from the subcontractor’s actions, and specific costs arising from actions of parties other than the party against whom damages are sought.

***

A jury may consider the total-cost approach when [1] the nature of the excess costs is such that there is no other practicable means of measuring damages, [2] the original bid was realistic, [3] the actual costs were reasonable, and [4] the plaintiff is not responsible for any of the additional expense. The modified-total-cost approach imposes the same requirements, except that it subtracts any identifiable costs for which the plaintiff contractor is responsible. Thus, to establish the fourth element above, the plaintiff must show that it is not responsible for any of the additional expenses, or has otherwise reasonably accounted for that portion of the total costs for which it is responsible.

 

Hill York Service Corp., supra, at *4 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

 

Here, the Sub-subcontractor wanted to use the modified total cost methodology to capture is additional manpower but failed to account for additional manpower and expenses it was responsible for (the fourth factor in establishing the reliability of this methodology).  The mechanical subcontractor was able to establish that there were items caused by the Sub-subcontractor that contributed to the delay and would have increased the Sub-subcontrator’s costs, but were never quantified and subcontracted from the Sub-subcontractor’s damages.  For this reason, the trial court granted the mechanical contractor’s motion for summary judgment preventing the Sub-subcontractor from proving its damages based on this methodology.

 

If you experienced cost overruns associated with delaying events, it is important to discuss with a lawyer and, depending on the quantum of the damages, a construction consultant in order to best calculate, present, and prove your damages.   Typically, you will want a construction consultant to serve as an expert witness to assist in proving these damages.  Lost productivity / inefficiency claims are challenging damages to prove based on the reliability factors discussed in the case. But, this methodology is used in many instances because it is not always practical to track the direct costs incurred for each event that impacted performance.  Before exploring the total cost / modified total cost methodology, a different methodology known as the measured mile approach should be explored.  Under this approach, the party compares its labor production for a scope of work that was not impacted with its labor production for that scope when it was impacted, with the delta forming the party’s inefficient manpower.  Basically, the objective is to compare productive periods of work (which forms the baseline or measured mile) with impacted, unproductive periods of work to determine the cost overrun for the delaying event.

 

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.