Posts Tagged ‘Pay When Paid’

Get An Attorney To Read Your Construction Contract – Every Time

read-construction-contract

At the start of every construction project you sign a stack of papers that will dictate your success or failure on the project: the construction contract.  The contract may be short and sweet, or it may be a mountain of paperwork that not only includes its own provisions but also cites provisions in other paperwork stacks.

Construction contracts are historically confusing documents and they contain a bunch of popular provisions with confusing interpretations like pay when paid clauses, indemnity provisions, claim notice requirements, and more. Plus, the provision may mean one thing under one state law and something completely different under another state’s law.

What can you do?

Get An Attorney To Review Every Contract

Last year, Seth Smiley wrote an article on our blog suggesting that with construction contracts you should “pay now to save later.” The point of this title and article simply underscored the importance of spending a little time with the contract language at the very start of the projects.

Perhaps your company actually pays money for an attorney to review the contract, or maybe they pay by putting in some quality time to review the document themselves. Whatever the case, it’s important to give construction contracts serious review before starting to work underneath it.

Having an attorney review your construction contract does not need to be complicated. In fact, here at Wolfe Law Group, we offer a flat fee for contract review services. Provide the contract documents to us, and we’ll turn around a review in a day or two. The review will include an opinion letter that sets forth two major things:

  • Provisions that should be concerning and perhaps changed (i.e. Alerts)
  • Provisions that require you to perform certain actions during the course of the project (i.e. Notification Lists)
  • Answers to any specific questions you may have

Having an attorney review your contract at the onset of a project will give your company peace of mind about their duties under the terms, and will help your company avoid bad situations.

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of The Contract

It’s unfortunate, but a lot of companies spend a great deal of time preparing their bid and selling their company to get a project. When they finally get the job, the salesperson, estimator, or business owner is ecstatic and just wants to get started. That’s understandable, but don’t allow the owner or general contractor to take advantage of your position and pass you a construction contract that is one-sided against you.

A strong contract that has provisions to the owner’s or general contractor’s favor can be crushing to a business in the event of a dispute, payment delay, or more.

Don’t let your excitement or desire for the project get ahead of you. General contractors and owners will negotiate a contract with you, and they expect push back on certain terms. If you allow them to roll over your company, however, they will.

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Posted in:     Construction Contracts  /  Tags: , , ,   /   Leave a comment

California Legislature Further Helping Subcontractors

I recently found a good article on JDSupra.com, always a great source for solid legal content, regarding California Senate Bill 474. This Bill protects subcontractors when contracting so that they cannot be held liable to indemnify the general contractor or owner from certain types of negligence. Author, Maria Giardina of Sedgwick, LLP, does a very good job of explaining the step that the California Legislature has taken to further protect the interest of subcontractors who often enter into one-sided contacts with general contractors in order to procure work in this troublesome economy.

This Bill raises a bigger and more overarching question as to why do state legislatures feel the need to make rules to restrict the freedom to contract. The legislature here is essentially trying to protect the subcontractor from itself. In a perfect world, general contract presents the subcontract document to the subcontractor, and that sub has its lawyer review the contract to see if the terms can be negotiated so that its a fair document for all involved. This new Bill, allows for subs to enter into subcontract agreements with general contractors and then after-the-fact afford the sub protections because the general contractor had a well written contract.

William M. Hill and Mary-Beth McCormack author a well written article on protecting a subcontractor from itself. This article deals with a hot construction law topic, pay-when-paid vs. pay-if-paid clauses.

It seems from the face of California Senate Bill 474 and many others like it across the country, that we are on a path toward heavy government regulation of our business relations. I understand that the little man needs protection from corporate might, but I believe that we have gone too far. Let the parties contract to whatever they want. If it goes against public policy, then the provision is void on its face. There is no need to waste taxpayer money to draft, argue, and pass bills such as these.

For more on this topic, see Gordon & Reese, LLP article and Senator Noreen Evans.

Posted in:     California, Construction Contracts, Construction News, Insurance, Litigation  /  Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   /   Leave a comment

Litigation Topics for Prime / Subcontractor Contracts

I had a speaking engagement today here in Kenner, Louisiana (a suburb of New Orleans) whereby I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of contractors and architects regarding construction contracts. The bulk of the discussion focused on the most contested provisions within construction contracts.

The information is very helpful to contractors and can be used a resource when a contractor begins the contracting phase of a construction project to help get a better understanding of what is going on within the contract documents.

Prime/Subcontractors Contracts

Contracts between prime/general contractors and their subcontractors make up a vital link in the construction project chain. Here both parties need to negotiate terms to better protect when a dispute arises. A well crafted contract can better protect a prime and/or a sub when default arises. Typically subcontractors are at the mercy of the prime. A good subcontractor will have his attorney review any agreement to make sure that the deal is an even one.

AIA – American Institute of Architects is the most common standard form contracts in the construction industry. AIA contracts are a good starting point and offer contracts for Prime/sub relationships, Architect/owner, Owner/Prime, and any other design professional/contractor relationship that may exist.

• Commonly litigated subcontract provisions

There are a number of provisions which could be contained in a prime/subcontractor contract that need to raise a red flag when present and should be negotiated by either party so as to keep the contract from becoming one-sided.

1. Incorporation by Reference Clauses: (flow-up & flow-down provisions)

  • a Flow-down provision in a prime/sub contract will incorporate by reference terms and provisions of the owner/prime contract;
  • conversely, a Flow-up provision incorporates the duties owed by the owner to the prime into the prime/sub contract;
  • Many times parties enter into these agreements with out ever seeing the referenced document making them susceptible to unknown provisions;
  • Enforcement depends on the reciprocality of the provisions and lack of ambiguity

2. Scope of Work Provisions

  • Prime contractors want a broad scope of work provision with subs so that they can pin other work to them later on if needed;
  • Subs should demand very specific scope of work provisions so as to know exactly what work is expected and what exactly they have bid on;
  • This provision can incorporate other documents such as plans and specifications;
  • Provision needed for extra work or change order if work called for is outside of the scope;

3. Change Order and Extra Work Provisions

  • Very popular area for dispute in construction contracts – changes are always happening
  • There should be a clear provision in the contract outlining the process whereby CO’s are made and approved;
  • Define change order – modification to work already contemplated by the agreement; (ie different materials)
  • Define extra – item of work beyond the original scope of work that is added during construction;
  • MAKE SURE change orders and/or extras are in writing;

4. Notice Provisions

  • Found in various places within a prime/sub contract
  • Very important risk-shifiting devices – can determine a win or loss regarding a claim

5. Indemnity Clauses

  • Typically these trickle down the line Owner -> Prime -> Sub
  • These are generally enforceable, Subs should be careful and not allow indemnity for negligence of another party
  • Insurance can be purchased by prime or sub to cover the indemnity obligation

6. No Damages for Delay Clauses

  • Owners and Primes try to insert “no damage for delay” provisions in contracts for protection against unforeseen delays
  • Parties want to check all referencing documents to see if this provision is in there

7. LD’s – Liquidated Damages Provisions

  • Very helpful provisions because the pre-determine delay damages, usually on a per day basis;
  • Enforceable unless determined to be a penalty or if they are a “one- size fits all” provision;
  • LD’s are a good way to measure delay damage but can enhance the need for Contractor/Sub to accelerate work to avoid further damage, leading to defects and workmanship issues;
  • For LD’s to apply the contractors work must be a substantial factor in the delay;

8. Lien Waivers

  • reduce the chance for encumbrances to be placed on the title of the property;
  • Usually not enforceable if lien waiver required before work performed;
  • A good tool for Prime and Owner to reduce exposure;
  • Can be used in an incremental fashion as payments are distributed

9. “Pay-when-paid” v. “Pay-if-paid”

  • Pay-if-paid is defined as a subcontractor gets paid by the general contractor only if the owner pays the general contractor for that subcontractor’s work.” Requires a condition precedent.
  • Pay-when-paid in contrast to the pay-if-paid; a pay-when-paid clause does not establish a condition precedent, but merely creates a timing mechanism for the general contractor’s payment to the subcontractor.

10. Retainage

  • Typically 5%-10% of each payment will be withheld by the Owner/Prime until a later date, such as substantial completion
  • Its purpose is to keep a pool of money to remedy any defects in workmanship by that sub

11. Termination provisions

  • Termination for Cause
  • Usually nonpayment, excessive delay, insolvency, or convenience are reasons to terminate the contract

12. ADR Clause (Arbitration/Mediation clauses)

  • Arbitration (most popular) – binding way to avoid litigation;
  • Mediation – non-binding way to avoid litigation;
  • Both can be effective, typically arbitration can be more intimidating due to its binding and no (very limited) ability to appeal

13. Attorney fee provisions

  • Very popular as no one likes to pay an attorney!
  • Many provisions will say that the unsuccessful party must pay attorney fees but others to be careful will put the burden on one party
  • Primes and subs should include an attorney fee provision in all contracts
  • Good to be specific on the provision and include for litigation and ADR

14. Forum selection & choice of law

  • If working out of state, make sure you know which venue a dispute will be held in;
  • This can be a very costly provision

(list partially obtained from the ABA’s Fundamentals of Construction Law)

 

Posted in:     Arbitration & ADR, Change Orders, Construction Contracts, Construction News, Damages, Delays, Dispute A Lien, Disputes, Insurance, Litigation, Louisiana, Mechanics Lien  /  Tags: , , , , ,   /   2 Comments

Scott Wolfe Quoted in New Orleans City Business Article About Delays When Paying Subcontractors

Scott Wolfe Jr. Construction LawyerSubcontractor non-payment is something very familiar to me. It’s been written about here on the Construction Law Monitor (especially with regard to how pay when paid clauses affect subcontractor payments), and it’s something my other blog (the Construction Lien Blog) focuses on exclusively in its discussion of mechanic liens.

So it’s no surprise that New Orleans City Business magazine contacted me to discuss how the law can help and hurt subcontractors who are frustrated when waiting for payments to trickle down from the owner.  The article can be found on City Business’ website (subscription required) here:  Subcontractors grow tired of waiting on delayed job payments.

The article’s author, Ben Myers, does a great job of capturing the friction between general contractors and subcontractors on the subject of payment. General contractors complain that getting payment can be complex and time consuming because that’s how money trickles through, and that subcontractors should be taking the risk for their portions of the work.  Subcontractors complain that they are bullied around and “pay when paid” provisions sometimes leave them drowning because of problems the general has completely unrelated to their work.

It’s a real complicated mess – and the article gets both sides on the subject and helps explain the complications.

Posted in:     Around The Web, Payment Requirements  /  Tags: , , , , , ,   /   Leave a comment

Common Law Analysis – Pay-if-paid, Pay-when-paid & Liquidating Agreements in Construction Contracts

In a recent decision, Sloan & Company v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (“Sloan”), the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has an in depth discussion regarding some technical yet very important clauses found within many construction contracts between general contractor, subcontractors, owner and the surety. Although the court interprets Pennsylvania law, these concepts are good to know for any jurisdiction.

Pay-If-Paid & Pay-When-Paid

The pay-if-paid discussion starts on page 9 and is defined as “a subcontractor gets paid by the general contractor only if the owner pays the general contractor for that subcontractor’s work.” The court goes on to next define pay-when-paid in contrast to the pay-if-paid. “[A] pay-when-paid clause does not establish a condition precedent, but merely creates a timing mechanism for the general contractor’s payment to the subcontractor.”

The basic difference here is pay-if-paid may never happen if the the owner does not pay the general contractor for the work performed by the subcontractor, in theory. But the pay-when-paid acts more as a timing mechanism for the general contractor to pay the subcontractor, regardless of what the owner has paid for.

Generally courts will look to the four corners of the contract between the parties to determine which way to interpret the meaning of the clause. The interesting part of this holding and a common practice in construction contracts is a clause which modifies the pay-if-paid clause to become a pay-when-paid and this was done here by eliminating the condition precedent after a stipulated amount of time.There are many reasons why this may be done but typically many subcontractors will not agree to an absolute pay-if-paid clause, as the end result can place too much of the risk of loss on the subcontractor. Click here for Daniel S. Brennan’s The Construction Contracts Book.

Liquidating Agreement

Another technical term that is not often discussed in construction, yet is present in many construction contracts is the mechanism know as a “liquidating agreement” Sloan pg 16. The Sloan court defines a liquidating agreement clause as a “process by which a general contractor may assert the claims of its subcontractors against the owner.” This is similar to subrogation in the insurance context. Do not confuse a liquidating agreement with liquidated damages. A liquidating agreement clause can act like a lien, in that it gives causes of action to the subcontractor against the owner where there is no privy of contract. Sloan pg 17.

“Liquidating agreements that enable pass-through claims, such as the one in the contract before us, can also serve to limit the subcontractor’s damages to the amount the contractor recovers from the owner. See Carl A. Calvert & Carl F. Ingwalson, Jr., Pass Through Claims and Liquidation Agreements, Constr. Lawyer, Oct. 1998, at 32, 33.Sloan pg 18.

Conclusion

The end result here, is that typically the general contractor bears the risk of loss when the owner does not pay up, but they can use contractual mechanisms to lower that risk and allocate some of it to the subcontractors. Liquidating agreements and pay-if-paid/pay-when-paid clauses, carefully negotiated at the contract phase of construction projects can lead to limiting liability at the end of a project when things do no go as planned. In the Sloan holding, the general contractor did not bear all of the loss but was forced to pay its subs in a proportional manner to the work performed, keeping nothing for itself. Sloan pg 20. Prevent this from happening to your construction company by working through these clauses when forming your next contract.

Further reading: California Pay-if-paid Wm. R. Clarke v. Safeco Insurance (distinguished by other jurisdictions); Pay-when-paid. A google search of these terms will provide a wealth of information. Always consult with an attorney before negotiating contracts in the construction industry no matter how large or small the project.

Posted in:     Construction Contracts, Construction News, Damages, Federal, Insurance, Litigation, Payment Requirements, State & Federal Contracting  /  Tags: , , ,   /   1 Comment