Contract Terms

Contractor Stung By Liquidated Damages

The recent case of Abhe & Svboda Inc. v MDOT (Court of Appeals, August 2017), underscores the difficulty in challenging Liquidated Damages, particularly where a contractor does not comply with delay claim provisions.

This case arose from the late completion by Abhe & Svboda, Inc (ASI) of a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to clean and paint part of the Mackinac Bridge. The contract specified Liquidated Damages (LDs) of $3,000 a day for each day of late completion. The contract also gave ASI the right to seek a time extension for bad weather, provided that ASI asserted the request within the time period required by the contract. ASI did not timely complete the project and the State assessed LDs of about $1.9 million for being 644 days late.

ASI sued the State challenging the LDs assessment for a number of reasons. For instance, ASI argued that the LDs should not apply to 362 days of the planned winter shutdown during which it was impossible for MDOT to suffer any losses and that the LD clause was void for failing to be a good-faith effort to estimate losses. ASI also argued that MDOT’s dilatory behavior in approving ASI’s scaffolding plan caused 56 days of delay. ASI argued that 459 days of work were caused by environmental circumstances beyond its control. The trial court rejected all of ASI’s arguments and granted summary disposition to the State. ASI appealed.

Construction Contract Clauses, Part 7 – Indemnification and Insured Contract Coverage

Indemnification provisions frequently appear in construction and commercial contracts. They operate to shift risk from the party being provided indemnification to the party providing indemnification. The principle behind such risk shifting is to shift potential risks onto the party or parties that are best able to prevent, mitigate, or insure those risks. In that respect, indemnity provisions do not necessarily need to be a source of disagreement during contract negotiation.

Consider, for example, indemnification provisions that require one party to indemnify and defend other parties from the risks relating to personal injury and property damage. At first blush, the party who is to provide such indemnity may feel that they should not assume those risks. However, agreeing to a well-drafted provision requiring indemnification for personal injury or property damage can be a benefit to all of the parties—including the party providing the indemnity. Here is how that can occur.

Construction Contract Clauses, Part 6 – Waiver of Claims for Insured Losses

Many insurance sections of construction contracts contain language whereby the parties involved in the construction project waive all claims against all other parties involved in the project for insurable losses such as property damage and personal injuries.

Owner and Contractor waive all rights against each other and their respective officers, directors, members, partners, employees, agents, consultants and subcontractors of each and any of them for all losses and damages caused by, arising out of or resulting from any of the perils or causes of loss covered by such policies and any other property insurance applicable to the Work; and, in addition, waive all such rights against Subcontractors and Engineer, and all other individuals or entities identified in the Supplementary Conditions as loss payees (and the officers, directors, members, partners, employees, agents, consultants, and subcontractors of each and any of them) under such policies for losses and damages so caused.

Construction Contract Clauses, Part 5 – Conversion Clauses

A conversion clause arises in the context of contract termination. There are generally two types of termination; termination for cause and for convenience. Each type of termination differs with respect to the basis for termination, as well as the limitations on payment rights the terminated party retains post-termination. A conversion clause operates to convert a wrongful termination into a termination for convenience. The following is an example of a conversion clause.

If it is determined, by litigation, arbitration or otherwise, that termination for default was unjustified for any reason, the termination shall be deemed a termination of convenience and Subcontractor’s remedies shall be limited to those provided for as a termination of convenience.

Construction Contract Clauses, Part 4 – Express Trust Clauses

An express trust clause can be used in a construction contract to create a trust over payments received by a contractor or subcontractor. The effect of establishing a trust is that it creates property rights in construction project payments and obligates the contractor receiving such payments to fulfill the fiduciary duty of using the trust funds to pay the named beneficiaries. The following is an example of an express trust clause:

All payments made by Contractor to Subcontractor shall be held in trust for the benefit of the Contractor and those persons having contracted with Subcontractor to provide materials or labor to the project.

Construction Contract Clauses Part 2- Flow-Through Provisions

Construction contracts are intended to define and memorialize the parties’ expectations regarding how they will perform during the course of a construction project. This series will examine clauses that are routinely found in construction contracts and provide a brief explanation of what they are and why they are important.

Flow-through provisions are common in construction contract documents. In essence, when a general contractor enters into a construction contract with an owner, the general contractor obligates itself to perform certain functions and services for the owner. The general contractor then subcontracts some of those functions to sub-contractors. A flow-through provision is language in a contract that makes one party obligated to fulfill the obligations of another party. In essence, by way of example, if properly drafted, it could prevent a subcontractor from arguing that the obligations it owed a general contractor were different from the obligations the general contractor owed the owner. However, the language of these provisions needs to be carefully read and construed to determine precisely the specific obligations of the parties.

Construction Contract Clauses Part 1: Inegration Clause

Construction contracts are intended to define and memorialize the parties’ expectations regarding how they will perform during the course of a construction project. This series will examine clauses that are routinely found in construction contracts and provide a brief explanation of what they are and why they are important.

The first clause to be considered is the integration clause. An integration clause is language in a contract that prohibits telling a court or an arbitration panel that prior oral arguments, or even prior written agreements, are part of the contract documents. For example, suppose an owner and a general contractor enter into an agreement. The agreement has ten elements, and the parties were discussing orally the eleventh element. If this oral eleventh element is not reduced to writing and included in the written document, chances are that that oral provision will not be enforced due to the fact that the contract is “fully integrated” because it contains an integration clause. A “fully integrated” contract means that all of the prior dealings between the parties have culminated into the written contract and a court or arbitration panel will not look beyond the written contract to determine the obligations of the parties. The following is a common example of an integration clause.