The 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 delay. See 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).
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