By: Mark A. Rysberg
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.
Further, flow-through provisions can work two ways: A subcontractor can owe a responsibility to the owner, and likewise, a general contractor can owe a subcontractor the same obligations that an owner owes the general contractor. The form and extent of flow-through provisions depends specifically upon the language of each contract document. Consider the following example:
The Subcontractor shall be bound to the Contractor by the terms of this Agreement and, to the extent that provisions of the Contract Documents between the Owner and Contractor apply to the Work of the Subcontractor as defined in this Agreement, the Subcontractor shall assume toward the Contractor all the obligations and responsibilities which the Contractor, by those Documents assumes toward the Owner and the Architect/Engineer, and shall have the benefits of all rights, remedies and redress against the Contractor which the Contractor, by Those Documents, has against the Owner, insofar as applicable to this Subcontract, provided that where any provision of the Contract Documents between the Owner and Contractor is inconsistent with any provision of this Agreement, this Agreement shall govern.
These clauses are important for several reasons. However, at its core, these provisions are intended to transfer risk from one party to another. Risk transfer is important in construction contracting because it is important to put the risk on the party that is in the best position to prevent the risk or insure around it. In that sense, flow-through provisions can be thought of as serving the purpose of aligning the parties’ performance obligations with regard to insurance and risk transfer.
Construction contracts have many different clauses that are intended to work together to accomplish risk transfer and to define performance obligations. When the parties to a contract have a different understanding about what terms are in a contract, problems can result. Therefore, it is important to understand and include thoughtfully planned and precise contract clauses in your construction contracts.
Attorneys who practice in construction law can be a valuable resource for contract review and in-house training that is intended to avoid costly mistakes later.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like “Construction Contract Clauses Part 1: Integration Clause.”