About Caroline Trautman

Caroline Trautman is an attorney with Anderson Jones PLLC, Raleigh, N.C. She assists clients with construction litigation, contractual drafting and disputes, collections, lien and bond claims, licensing issues and other matters affecting businesses.

How Can Roofing Contractors Protect Themselves if a Project Gets Delayed?

Project delays can have serious financial consequences for both contractors and subcontractors. When such issues arise, one option for affected contractors is asserting delay claims to recover losses. Delay claims, however, must meet several criteria to survive in court, and claimants can pursue them in many different ways. This article will discuss different types of delay claims and the methods for asserting them, as well as what subcontractors can do to protect themselves the next time they encounter a project that is behind schedule.

In simple terms, a delay claim arises when a project is delayed and a contractor or subcontractor needs more time (and possibly more equipment and labor) than originally budgeted to fulfill its contractual obligation.

A delay claim can help a contractor extend an original deadline for completing a job or compensate it for the additional costs associated with the delay, which may include the overtime and additional manpower necessary to keep a job on schedule, as well as consequential damages like lost profits, lost opportunities, and home office and administrative costs.

Some delays, of course, cannot be avoided and do not qualify the impacted contractors for compensation. Examples include weather-related delays and delays arising from foreseeable circumstances. Although, when an owner or general contractor causes or is responsible for a preventable delay—also known as an inexcusable delay—the lower-tier contractor may recover the additional costs to complete the project. Some examples of inexcusable delays include the customer not having the job site ready on time, supplying defective materials to its contractor, giving its contractor insufficient access to the job site, or wrongly interfering with the project schedule.

Before committing to the complicated and risky delay claim process, most subcontractors should seriously consider resolving delay disputes either through informal means or, if applicable, through the “equitable adjustment” clauses within their contracts. Pursuing equitable adjustments can be less confrontational than pursuing delay claims. What equitable adjustment clauses allow varies from contract to contract, and parties are entitled negotiate contract terms to define what constitutes such an adjustment. Generally, however, an equitable adjustment is an adjustment in the contract price to reflect an increase in cost arising from a change in the completion date or duration of time for the contracted scope of work. These price adjustments typically encompass overhead and profit as well as actual costs. (In contrast, a change in the actual scope of work is typically addressed via an additive or deductive change order.)

Some jurisdictions that lack a legal definition of “equitable adjustment” will enforce the parties’ contract terms and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, an equitable adjustment can simply mean cost, plus reasonable overhead and profit. For example, a recent North Carolina Court of Appeals decision (Southern Seeding Service Inc. v. W.C. English Inc., et al) involved a contract provision stating that unit prices were based upon the project being completed on schedule and that should the contractor’s work be delayed without its fault, “unit prices herein quoted shall be equitably adjusted to compensate us for increased cost… .”

Although neither the contract nor North Carolina law defined the term “equitable adjustment,” the court considered the parties’ intended definitions of the term. Both parties testified that essentially, “equitable adjustment” meant the difference in cost. The court allowed the claimant, Southern Seeding Service, to recover the difference in its actual per-unit costs and the per-unit costs in its bid, plus overhead and profit.

This decision indicates that even in the absence of a contract specifically stating otherwise, contractors can sometimes use equitable adjustment clauses to recover their cost increases resulting from delays. In the case of Southern Seeding, where a “no damage for delay” clause barred Southern Seeding from making a formal delay claim, this proved valuable. One downside to the approach, however, is that it does not necessarily compel upper-tier contractors or owners to speedily compensate contractors for delays. And, unlike some delay clauses, equitable adjustment clauses do not provide for interest accruing on properly noticed claims that go unpaid. Informal methods and equitable adjustments may prove more effective for contractors who have stronger and more positive relationships.

If equitable adjustment claims will not resolve delay issues, delay claims can help—given the right circumstances. One of the biggest hurdles to establishing delay claims is first giving proper notice to the upper-tier contractor or owner. Often, contracts contain notice provisions that restrict the time window in which contractors may present delay claims. For example, some contracts require contractors to submit their claims within a certain number of days—often, as few as two days—of the date that a delaying event occurs or is known to the contractor. Courts generally enforce notice provisions strictly, though there are exceptions.

Additionally, many contracts contain “no damage for delay” clauses that can eliminate delay claims entirely. Under such terms, courts have ruled contractors may only acquire extra time “in the owner’s discretion” and cannot receive damages unless the defending party has clearly breached the contract.

Courts in most jurisdictions recognize some exceptions to “no damage for delay” clauses, particularly when owners or upper-tier contractors deal in bad faith, unreasonably refuse to provide additional time, or unreasonably interfere with the claimants’ work.

Calculating Damages

Even if a delay claim is allowed by contract, selecting the proper method of measuring and reporting damages from a delay is essential to success. The two primary methods for calculating delay claims are the critical path method and the total cost method.

The critical path method is an analysis of a project’s schedule, which shows the length of a delay and how that delay disrupted the sequence of dependent tasks required to complete a project as scheduled. Ideally, actual records of project hours, materials, and other expenses, as well as agreed-upon schedules, can enable contractors to piece together the contemporary cost of a delay. Although most courts strongly prefer these actual records to calculate damages, contractors without schedule information may also attempt the critical path method by relying on scheduling experts who can retroactively reconstruct the project’s as-built schedule and testify on critical path items to estimate how much the delay impacted them.

If there is no way to collect the information sufficient for the critical path method, the total cost method might be an option for potential claimants. This approach calculates delay damages by subtracting the total anticipated costs of a project from its total actual costs. To use this method, contractors must show (1) the customer is completely at fault for the increased costs from a delay; (2) there are no other ways to measure the damages; and (3) both the bid and actual costs are reasonably calculated.

All three of these points can be difficult to prove, and most courts, regardless of jurisdiction, treat them with a great deal of scrutiny. The New Hampshire Superior Court for Merrimack County, for instance, in the case Axenics Inc. v. Turner Construction Co., wrote “the total cost method is a ‘theory of last resort.’”

One reason why some contractors gravitate towards the total cost method is that it does not require a full account of actual costs, and many contractors can easily calculate the losses themselves. The method also allows them to potentially recover lost profits. An additional approach to the total cost method is the modified total cost method, where contractors use the same formula as the total cost method but adjust it for bidding inaccuracies and/or performance inefficiencies to make their delay claims appear more accurate. The methods using actual costs, though, generally provide stronger evidence for damages, and most courts will only accept the total cost method if a contractor is able to prove there is no other way to account for the actual costs.

Many contractors who hope to recover home office expenses in delay claims use what is known as the Eichleay formula to determine such damages. Like other aspects of delay claims, however, the effectiveness of this method depends on the circumstances of the claim, a contractor’s documentation, and the jurisdiction. Furthermore, more conservative estimates may have greater chances of success. At its core, the Eichleay formula determines the amount of home office damages by multiplying the number of delay days by the average daily rate of home office overhead attributable the delayed contract. This daily overhead rate is calculated by dividing the delayed project’s share of a contractor’s total billings and dividing it by the number of days in the delayed contract (both the on-schedule and delay days). For cases involving government contracts, federal courts have deemed Eichleay claims as “the only proper method” for calculating home office damages provided they meet certain requirements. These requirements are: (1) the government caused the delay; (2) the period of delay was uncertain and the government required the contractor to be ready to resume its work on short notice; and (3) the contractor was unable to seek other work to cover its office expenses during that period.

Outside of matters involving federal contracts, courts treat Eichleay claims with a higher level of scrutiny than critical path claims. In an effort to discredit delay claims, defending parties often claim (correctly) that the Eichleay formula is only an estimate and not necessarily an accurate indicator of damages. To ensure the numbers within the calculation are true, contractors will likely have to provide audited financial statements—information smaller contractors may not be able to provide. Also, Eichleay damages may decrease if many of the office overhead costs were from bidding for the contract or if a contractor already paid most of its office expense before a delay late in a project. Although the federal government prefers the Eichleay formula, some state courts do not accept it and instead use the terms of a contract to determine the costs of overhead. Still, many contractors try to use the Eichleay formula whenever possible because it can potentially yield hundreds of thousands more in recovered expenses than other methods. Ultimately, the jurisdiction of a delay claim is a strong factor for deciding whether or not to use the Eichleay formula.

When project delays are inevitable, contractors have options to recover at least some of their losses. For many contractors, pursuing equitable adjustments will prove to be the most cost-effective and least adversarial solution. Companies that maintain detailed schedule records and give adequate, timely written notice of their delay concerns may successfully assert delay claims to avoid serious harm when a customer refuses to accommodate them (if contract provisions allow). Ultimately, consulting with a lawyer or delay consultant early in the delay process is the best protection from losing a legitimate claim.

Author’s Note

This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

Three Types of Contracts Offer Different Benefits and Risks

For the first time in years, construction material costs are rising. In March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported numbers showing a 4.8 percent rise in material prices between February 2016 and February 2017.

For contractors who have been working on long-term projects, the price increases could mean lower profit margins, or even losses, as they complete their work. Contractors who are in the estimating, bidding, and contract negotiation stages for new projects will want to ensure profitability and manage risk where possible. In particular, selecting the best pricing system for a project and properly drafting the contract to reflect it is essential, especially during periods of material cost increases.

Three prevalent pricing mechanisms are fixed-price contracts, cost-plus contracts, and guaranteed maximum price contracts. Here’s the lowdown on each type and the benefits and risks with respect to cost changes.

FIXED-PRICE CONTRACTS

Fixed-price or lump-sum contracts are contracts where the parties, sometimes through extensive negotiation, agree upon a fixed sum for the labor and materials to be furnished. Typically, the contractor will prepare a schedule of values where portions of the work correspond with a certain percentage of completion, and pay applications are submitted for the appropriate percentages (often, minus an agreed-upon amount of retention). If the parties want to change the scope of work, a signed change order will be required, and the parties must negotiate and agree upon the change order pricing before signed.

Fixed-price contracts offer contractors limited protection—and in some cases, no protection—in the event of material price increases. Indeed, “the normal risk of a fixed-price contract is that the market price for subject goods or services will change.” (See Seaboard Lumber Co. v. U.S., a 2002 Federal Circuit Court opinion.) Many contracts contain force majeure provisions that excuse or absolve parties from performing their contractual duties in the event of unforeseeable circumstances that are beyond their control and that make performance impossible or commercially impracticable. Examples of such events include “acts of God” like floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes, as well as events such as riots, terrorist attacks, and labor strikes. However, force majeure clauses can be difficult to enforce, and most courts, like the Federal Circuit in Seaboard, view cost changes as a normal, foreseeable risk and not an event that will excuse contractors from further performance. Therefore, when negotiating a fixed price, contractors generally should plan to be held to that price.

However, properly drafted fixed-price contracts can give contractors options to mitigate potential losses arising from cost increases. One strategy is drafting the contract to read that the fixed price is based upon material prices as of the date of signing and that significant increases in material prices will or shall (not “may”) entitle the contractor to an equitable adjustment of the contract price through a signed change order.

Contractors should also be entitled to adjust the contract price or time of completion to account for other problems—like delays, material shortages, or other difficulties acquiring materials—that can occur when costs increase. Such provisions will have better chances of being enforced if the contract specifically defines what constitutes a “significant” percentage increase in price. Additionally, contracts should include provisions protecting contractors from liability associated with delays and shortages. Some fixed-price contracts also provide that in the event the parties cannot agree on a price for change orders, the change order work shall be paid for on a time-and-materials basis including overhead and profit. If contractors are unable to negotiate an equitable adjustment provision, a time-and-material measure for change orders can provide some protection.

COST-PLUS CONTRACTS

For contractors, while the above revisions to fixed-price contracts may be helpful, cost-plus contracts will provide the maximum protection against material cost increases. Cost-plus contracts—also known as time-and-material agreements—are agreements whereby contractors bill for the cost of the labor and materials, plus a fee that is either a percentage of the project costs or an agreed-upon flat fee. When invoicing, contractors include documentation of their payment to subcontractors, vendors, and material suppliers to provide proof of the cost. They then invoice for the cost plus the agreed-upon percentage of the cost.

Unlike fixed-price agreements, cost-plus agreements place the risk of cost overages and increases on the owner. If the contractor’s fee is a percentage of the labor and material costs, these arrangements also create potential for contractors to benefit from cost increases. However, they eliminate the need to negotiate a fixed price, they make change orders much simpler to implement, and in periods of cost decreases, they can benefit owners.

GUARANTEED MAXIMUM PRICE CONTRACTS

While some owners will be wary of cost-plus agreements—especially when material prices are on the rise—guaranteed maximum price (GMP) contracts may serve as a compromise that could help both contractors and owners mitigate risk. GMP contracts are a modified cost-plus option in that they function like cost-plus agreements—contractors invoice for the labor and material costs, plus their fee—but the contracts establish a maximum price for the entire project. Contractors invoice in the same manner they would for a cost-plus agreement, but once the owner has paid the maximum agreed-upon amount, the remaining costs are the contractor’s to bear.

Often, parties to GMP contracts also agree that if the sum of the cost of work and the contractor’s fee total less than the guaranteed maximum price, the difference in the cost and the agreed-upon maximum fee reverts to the owner or is split between the two parties. This makes some owners more amenable to these agreements than they would be to traditional cost-plus agreements, which can make project costs very unpredictable.

Whether parties decide that a fixed-price or cost-plus agreement is best for their needs, they should take care to draft the price terms clearly in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion. Generally, courts enforce contracts as written if they are clear and unambiguous, but if an ambiguity exists, courts will must look to extrinsic evidence to determine what the parties intended, leaving the fate of the dispute to a jury or fact finder. For example, in Rosa v. Long (a 2004 N.C. Court of Appeals opinion), a homeowner and contractor entered into a contract stating that the contractor would build a turnkey dwelling for the “sum of $193,662.60” but later stating that contractor would receive a commission in the amount of 10 percent of all materials, subcontracts, and labor obtained and expended by the contractor. Because these terms suggested that the contract was both fixed-price and cost-plus, a jury decided what the parties intended instead of a judge enforcing the terms as drafted. Clear, proper drafting is essential to increasing the parties’ chances of a predictable outcome in the event of a dispute.

Understand Your State’s Limitations on Non-compete, Non-solicitation and Non-disclosure Agreements

It is likely that at some point in their careers, laborers will be asked or required to sign an agreement restricting their activities once the working relationship comes to an end. National Public Radio reported in November 2016 that roughly 18 percent of U.S. workers were bound by non-competition agreements alone. This is in spite of the fact that numerous states restrict these agreements, which are prevalent in the construction industry. Many contractors require workers—particularly high-level employees—to sign such agreements as a matter of course. But whether it makes sense to do so—and which type of agreement is the best fit—depends on businesses’ needs and goals, as well as the controlling law.

NON-COMPETITION AGREEMENTS

Generally, non-competition agreements or clauses—also known as “non-competes”—prevent workers from engaging in the same business as their employers’ business after the relationship is terminated. This agreement often occurs at the beginning of the labor relationship with employees making this promise in consideration of new employment. These clauses can prohibit workers not only from starting their own businesses in competition with a former employer but also from working for competitors.

For businesses, the goal of non-competes is to prevent former employees and independent contractors from offering the same services or products as the business. Should the employee or independent contractor choose to violate a non-competition agreement and engage in the same business, typically the employer is then entitled to injunctive relief whereby a court orders the worker to stop engaging in that type of business.

By their nature, non-competes are contracts that restrain trade or commerce. For this reason, many jurisdictions disfavor these agreements. States vary greatly as to whether non-compete clauses are enforceable and, if so, how agreements must be drafted to be enforceable. For example, most who do business in the state of California are aware of that state’s general ban on non-competes (see Section 16600 of the California Business and Professions Code).

Other states, such as Florida, allow non-competes to be enforced in particular circumstances set forth by state statute. In Florida, Title XXXIII, Chapter 541.335, requires that non-competes be signed and in writing to be enforceable. The law also sets forth detailed restrictions that depend on the party against whom they are being enforced. The Florida statute places duration and geographic limitations, among other limits, on these agreements.

In many states, though no statute governs non-competes specifically, court decisions have created com- mon-law restrictions on them. These restrictions tend to be time- and location-based limits similar to the ones codified in Florida. Under Chapter 75 of the North Carolina General Statutes, contracts “in restraint of trade or commerce” are illegal and generally unenforceable. However, in interpreting this ban, North Carolina courts have enforced non-competition clauses in certain, limited circumstances. Under North Carolina case law, to be enforceable, non-competition agreements must be in writing, signed by the employee/in- dependent contractor, and based on valuable consideration. Furthermore, the duration and location in which the worker cannot compete must be “reasonable”. Finally, such agreements must be designed to protect a legitimate business interest, such as investing time and resources toward training employees. (See Young v. Mastrom Inc., a 1990 N.C. Court of Appeals opinion.)

Provided that the terms of these agreements are reasonable, they are generally enforceable regardless of whether the worker quits or is terminated (as long as the termination is not otherwise in breach of an employment contract).

Adequate consideration is an essential element of any enforceable contract and of covenants not to compete in particular. In North Carolina and other states, courts have found that mere continued employment is not sufficient consideration to render a non-compete enforceable. In North Carolina, the promise of a bonus, raise in pay, promotion or a new job assignment is generally sufficient consideration. This means that employers who want current workers to sign a non-compete should be prepared to offer them something in addition to continued employment.

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What Contractors Need to Know About E-Verify and IRCA

Because proper compliance with immigration law is complex, this article should not be construed as legal advice. Those seeking counsel about proper compliance with IRCA, E-Verify requirements, the Fair Labor Standards Act, or wage and hour laws should contact an employment attorney practicing in their state. For general questions, feel free to contact the author at ctrautman@andersonandjones.com.

Mention the word “immigration” in today’s political climate and be prepared for the conversation to take any number of turns. What starts as a friendly conversation could segue into a political debate about President Obama or Donald Trump, livening up or ruining a perfectly good Easter dinner.

But regardless of opinion or political identity, immigration law—and compliance therewith—is something about which most construction professionals should be talking. It is a necessary component of any employer’s operations and it is of particular concern to construction business owners. “Am I supposed to be E-Verifying my employees now?” and “How long do I have to store I-9 Forms?” are crucial questions for contractors.

At a minimum, it is essential for construction professionals to understand the basics of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and E-Verify. By now, most business owners in the construction industry are familiar with E-Verify, as well as federal I-9 forms, which must be completed pursuant to IRCA. But with immigration reform becoming a hotly debated issue in the U.S., contractors should not only be prepared to comply with existing laws, they should also pay attention to what changes the future could hold.

IRCA

IRCA, a federal statute, makes it unlawful to hire “unauthorized aliens”, which the law defines as individuals who are not “lawfully admitted for permanent residence” or not otherwise authorized by the attorney general to be employed in the U.S. [8 U.S.C § 1324a(h) (2012)]. IRCA is the statute that requires all employees and employers to complete I-9 Forms; the employer must then retain the original forms during the employment of each active employee (and for three years after employees become inactive or are terminated). The statute’s intention is to require every employer, regardless of the number of individuals it employs, to verify all employees hired after Nov. 6, 1986, are authorized to work in the U.S.

As a practical matter, compliance with IRCA likely won’t ensure all employees are authorized to work in the U.S. However, correctly filling out the I-9 Form is crucial to avoid fines and other penalties from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Washington, D.C. Employees and employers have obligations regarding the I-9 Form, so cooperation between both sides of an employment trans- action is key. Under IRCA, ICE has the authority to inspect I-9 Forms and conduct audits to ensure employers are complying.

Common, but often innocent, mistakes are made. For example, employers often fail to check the “status” box on the I-9 form or fail to have the employee sign the form. Also, inaccurate classification of employees as “active” or “inactive” can lead to trouble for employers who have stopped maintaining I-9 forms for employees who no longer work for the employer but who are still classified as “active”. Instituting company policies on what constitutes an “active” and “inactive” employee, as well as ensuring proper completion of I-9 forms, can help prevent ICE audits and the fines that could result.

E-VERIFY

Unlike IRCA, E-Verify is not a statute but an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S. In many cases, E-Verify will more accurately determine an employee’s eligibility to work than the I-9 Form system under IRCA. E-Verify is available to all U.S. employers free of charge by the Washington-based U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) but it gene- rally is not mandatory for employers.

Although E-Verify is technically voluntary, numerous states have enacted provisions requiring most employers to use E-Verify. These states include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. Additionally, pursuant to a presidential Executive Order and a subsequent Federal Acquisition Regulation rule, federal contractors—or those contractors doing business with the federal government—must use E-Verify.

Again, except in certain circumstances, enrollment in E-Verify is voluntary. Once enrolled, however, employers are required to post English and Spanish notices indicating the company’s participation in the program, as well as the Right to Work issued by the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration- Related Unfair Employment Practices, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Washington. These posters must be visible to prospective employees. To enroll, an employer simply needs to visit the E-Verify website and begin the process. Next, the employer enters into a written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS and the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), Washington. This MOU provides the responsibilities of each party— employer/federal contractor, SSA and DHS.

BROADER ACTIONS

In recent years, President Obama and state governments have implemented changes to immigration law and policy that are impacting the construction industry. President Obama, in response to Congress not passing an immigration reform bill, announced a number of executive actions in November 2014. One such measure would allow certain undocumented immigrants to temporarily remain and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. Because of pending litigation, this measure has not yet taken effect.

Although President Obama has attempted to prolong some immigrants’ ability to legally work in the U.S., several states have enacted legislation that could do the opposite. While the 19 states previously listed had made E-Verify mandatory for certain employers, some states have broadened the scope of situations requiring employers to use it. North Carolina, for example, had required all employers with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify as of 2013. But in October 2015, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that requires all contractors and subcontractors on state construction projects to use E-Verify (N.C.G.S. § 143-133.3). The statute appears to require this without regard to a contractor’s number of employees, bringing North Carolina a step closer to South Carolina’s zero-tolerance policy for employment of undocumented immigrants.

In South Carolina, private employers who fail to E-Verify new hires could lose their licenses to do business in that state [S.C. Code Ann. § 41-8-10, et seq. (2012)]. The South Carolina law, and similar laws, easily could affect contractors from other states with more lenient policies; however, the South Carolina statute defines “private employer” to include any company transacting business in South Carolina, required to have a license issued by any state agency (including a business or construction license) and employing at least one person in South Carolina. Therefore, companies outside South Carolina that have a South Carolina office—or just one employee in South Carolina—likely will have to use E-Verify, which is becoming required in an increasing number of locations.

EMPLOYEE MISCLASSIFICATION

Importantly, E-Verify does not apply to independent contractors; companies that are required to use E-Verify need only verify the status of employees, not of independent contractors that contract with the company for work. This is noteworthy in light of another trending issue in the construction industry: employee misclassification. Employee misclassification occurs when a business wrongly classifies an employee as an independent contractor or vice versa. This is a violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) website, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division is engaging in “strategic enforcement” to identify instances where companies are identifying workers as independent contractors even though they function like employees. Whether companies could be penalized for failing to E-Verify independent contractors who should have been classified as employees is unclear. However, it appears that eventually many employers will have to reclassify workers who are currently classified as “independent contractors” to “employees” to comply with federal contracts, state contracts or state laws that require use of E-Verify. It appears that this will inevitably result in employers being required to use E-Verify on an increasing number of workers.

Single Insurance Policies that Insure All Parties on a Specific Construction Project Offer Benefits and Risks

With the use of wrap-up insurance policies on the rise for commercial construction projects, many contractors and subcontractors have questions about how these policies work and what unique concerns and questions they present.

Generally, wrap-up insurance refers to single insurance policies written to insure all parties involved in a specific construction project—providing coverage for the job-site risks of the owner, construction manager, general contractor, contractors, subcontractors and design firms—instead of the individual parties each purchasing and carrying their own insurance policies. Wrap-up insurance policies are most commonly used on very large commercial or public projects. Many project owners and general contractors have found that using these policies is an effective risk-management technique for handling loss exposures related to single and multiple-site construction activities.

With wrap-up insurance, the cost and extent of coverage are generally within the owner’s control.

With wrap-up insurance, the cost and extent of coverage are generally within the owner’s control.

Benefits

There are two primary types of wrap-up insurance policies: Owner Controlled Insurance Policies (OCIPs), in which the project owner is the primary sponsor, and Contractor Controlled Insurance Policies (CCIPs), which are controlled by the general contractor. Additionally, owners and general contractors can cover multiple projects under a single program in Rolling Controlled Insurance Policies (RCIPs). Typically, wrap-up insurance policies include general liability, workers’ compensation/employer liability, excess liability and builder’s risk as standard coverages, but many owners also add coverage for project environmental liability and project design team errors and omissions.

The benefits of using wrap-up insurance are numerous, especially for the owners or contractors who sponsor them. A successful wrap-up insurance program can significantly reduce risk for owners or contractors, giving them more control over insurance coverage for all the parties and avoiding unpleasant surprises about the extent of coverage parties have. Under the traditional model, owners or general contractors establish minimum insurance requirements for subcontractors and require them to furnish a certificate of insurance specifying coverage areas and limits. However, because all insurance policy terms differ slightly, there is no guarantee that a given subcontractor’s insurance will be adequate, or still in force, at the time of a loss. Furthermore, contractors and subcontractors normally have to build their insurance costs into their contract costs, and this increases bid amounts.

With wrap-up insurance, the cost and extent of coverage are generally within the owner’s control. When sub-contractors no longer have to increase their bids to factor in insurance costs, owners claim they can utilize the cost savings to fund the costs of the wrap-up insurance. And the potentially more streamlined process for handling claims can make prospective litigation less time-consuming and costly.

Risks

OCIPs and CCIPs, of course, come with their own set of risks and drawbacks for owners, contractors and subcontractors, and the parties who are asked to enroll in these policies do not always look upon them favorably. Some subcontractors and contractors have found that enrolling in wrap-up insurance policies is administratively burdensome and that the resulting decrease in volume of insurance purchases for their companies can increase the costs of other insurance they must purchase. Additionally, subcontractors should make an effort to understand the limits of coverage; it may differ from the coverage in the policies they have been accustomed to using. This should be done at the procurement stage, before a project begins, and not later, after project contracts have been signed.

Those investigating the level and limits of coverage will want to determine how responsibility for any injuries, losses or damage will be addressed and confirm that the responsibility is outlined in the building contract or the written wrap-up policy. One potential source of misunderstanding is builder’s risk coverage. Often, builder’s risk insurance is carried by the builder. With wrap-up policies, owners and general contractors may be particularly concerned with the scope of the builder’s risk coverage. For example, if a wrap-up policy excludes property damage occurring during construction but the builder’s risk policy excludes faulty workmanship, a potential gap in coverage would exist. The wrap-up insurer might take the position that it won’t pay for what is essentially a builder’s risk claim. To prevent such an outcome, owners may find they need to add coverage to the builder’s risk policy to cover faulty work or at least repairs.

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Forum-selection Clauses and Their Impact on the Construction Industry

With the national housing market poised for slow but steady growth in 2014, U.S. contractors expect a good year for business, and the number of contracts and subcontracts for construction work is expected to increase. Many of these contracts will contain forum-selection clauses, and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling brings to light the importance of these clauses and coming changes in their enforceability.

WHAT IS A FORUM-SELECTION CLAUSE?

A forum-selection clause is a contractual provision in which the parties establish the place for specified litigation between them. These clauses have become increasingly common in construction contracts, particularly with general contractors who do business in two or more states. Often, general contractors have a form subcontract agreement they require or ask all subcontractors on a particular project to sign. If general contractors work in multiple states, forum-selection clauses can help them make potential litigation less costly and easier to manage by guaranteeing the litigation will take place in the company’s home state, where its executives and attorneys likely work.

An example is a general contractor based in New York but working on a North Carolina project and entering into a roofing subcontract with a North Carolina roofer. The general contractor can present the subcontractor with a forum-selection clause mandating any legal claims arising from the subcontract may only be brought in a New York court. For a North Carolina contractor, finding counsel and filing suit in New York will likely be more difficult and costly than doing so in North Carolina, especially when evidence and witnesses are located in North Carolina. In this example, the forum-selection clause makes litigation more predictable and cost-effective for the general contractor and also decreases the likelihood the subcontractor will actually be able to sue, so it most likely favors the general contractor.

To protect local contractors, many state laws have declared out-of-state forum-selection clauses unenforceable in construction contracts. These states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Additionally, state laws in Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas make forum-selection clauses unenforceable in certain circumstances that sometimes, but do not necessarily, encompass construction contracts. In the first category of states, local contractors have been able to file suit locally despite forum-selection clauses because courts in these states can apply the state laws and disregard the clauses. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on these clauses will severely limit the reach of these laws and will ensure that forum-selection clauses are enforced in many more cases.

CASE BACKGROUND

In December 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in the case of Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The court held that defendants in federal court can use forum-selection clauses to transfer their cases to the state specified in the clause, even if the suit is brought in a state with a law deeming these clauses unenforceable. Essentially, forum-selection clauses may be enforced by a venue transfer motion.

The case involved Atlantic Marine Construction (AMC) Co., a general contractor based in Virginia. AMC won a federal contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a building at Fort Hood, Texas. AMC subcontracted with J-Crew Management, a local Texas company, to perform some of the work. AMC’s contract, which J-Crew Management signed, included a forum- selection clause dictating that any legal disputes between AMC and J-Crew Management arising from the contract had to be brought in state or federal court in Norfolk, Va.

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Five Ways Construction Professionals Can Protect Their Contractual Rights and Avoid Misunderstandings

If your company has recently been awarded a contract for construction work, congratulations! In finding the work and having your bid accepted, you’ve demonstrated your capability to efficiently furnish high-quality labor and materials. At this point, many contractors have no choice but to immediately proceed with reviewing the schedule, scope of work and specifications, as well as preparing to mobilize labor to meet time-related demands. With this flurry of activity, many contractors forget to reduce the agreements to writing, fail to sign written agreements, or—worse—sign contracts without reading all the terms and conditions. The following tips and information can help busy contractors prevent common pitfalls from occurring and offer guidance for those mired in contractual disputes.

1. Put everything in writing.

Most construction professionals would agree written contracts are essential for projects with new or relatively unknown clients, but many feel that long relationships with clients and mutual trust and respect eliminate the need for written contracts. In fact, some fear written agreements have the potential to offend other professionals with whom they have a positive past working relationship. However, written contracts are essential in today’s economic and legal climate and can be seen as a way to honor the mutual respect many feel toward past and repeat clients. The primary purpose of a contract is not necessarily to give one party an advantage over the other. Instead, the goal is for both parties to clearly delineate each party’s expectations from the other to avoid unwanted surprises. If both parties are aware of the duties, responsibilities, risks and rewards before the project commences, there will be less potential for disputes and misunderstandings than there will be without a written agreement.

2. Know that complying with licensing statutes is essential to preserving contract rights.

North Carolina and South Carolina, like most states, prohibit unlicensed contractors from enforcing the provisions of their contracts if a license was required for the contract in question. Additionally, North Carolina case law requires contractors to strictly comply with N.C. General Statutes Chapter 87, which contains specific provisions about the name in which contractors can lawfully hold a license. Failure to comply with the statutes will prevent contractors from enforcing the provisions of their construction contracts.

South Carolina has taken an even stricter approach. Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. §40-11-370, it is unlawful to engage in construction under a name other than the exact name on the license issued to the contractor (if a license is required for the work), and an entity that does so may not bring an action in law or in equity to enforce the provisions of a contract. This means even a duly licensed contractor can be barred from any recovery for breach of contract, including lien and bond lawsuits, if the contractor’s name on a written contract is even slightly different from the contractor’s name on the contractor’s license. Although some states have case law adopting this principle, South Carolina appears to be the only state that has codified the rule. Therefore, it is imperative a contractor’s name on the contract is the exact same name as the name on any contracting license required for the work in question.

3. Assume no damage for delay clauses are enforceable.

Both North and South Carolina courts generally enforce “no damage for delay” clauses, which specify owners will not be liable for a general contractor’s damages arising from delay, disruption or interference—even if the owner is responsible. General contractors can enforce these provisions against subcontractors or suppliers, too. Often, the contract will provide that additional time—contingent on written approval by the owner, architect or general contractor—is the sole remedy for delay.

South Carolina courts have recognized some exceptions to these clauses’ enforceability, however. The South Carolina Supreme Court held in Williams Electric Co. v. Metric Constructors Inc. (1997) delay caused by fraud, misrepresentation or bad faith; delay caused by active interference; unreasonable delay giving rise to abandonment of the contract; or delay caused by gross negligence can give rise to recoverable damages.

Similarly, North Carolina courts have overlooked “no damage for delay” clauses and allowed parties to recover damages arising from delays that constitute abandonment of a contract; active interference with the contract; and delays resulting from fraud, bad faith or arbitrary action. Additionally, damages from delays not reasonably contemplated by the parties are recoverable.

Many delay provisions are accompanied by notice requirements, too. Most contracts that do allow parties to recover for delay related damages require the party claiming damages to give notice of the delay, or the source of the delay, as soon as they are aware of it. What constitutes notice and reasonable knowledge of the delay can be open to interpretation. Ambiguity is best avoided through specific provisions in the contract.

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