Construction Law Blog
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Whether you negotiate your own subcontracts or rely on your lawyer to do the heavy lifting at contract time, a savvy subcontractor should understand the basic purpose of common subcontract provisions, and be prepared to negotiate for fair and commercially reasonable terms. While most sophisticated subcontractors are skilled at negotiating the core terms of a subcontract—scope of work, price, and time—a few simple but less obvious tweaks to common subcontract terms and conditions can go a long way to protect a subcontractor from unfair results when a dispute arises.
From the desk of an experienced construction lawyer, below are the first three of the top five “boilerplate” provisions that subcontractors too often overlook during contract negotiations, along with tips on language to include and to avoid.
As part of Washington’s Initiative 1433, approved by voters in November 2016, Washington’s minimum wage will be increased to $13.50 by January 1, 2020. At the time the initiative was approved, Washington’s minimum wage was $9.47 per hour and increased with the cost of living. It was the eighth-highest minimum wage in the country. The federal minimum wage was $7.25. In 2014, Seattle became the first major city to approve a $15 minimum wage.
Initiative 1433 increased the state's minimum wage to $13.50 by January 1, 2020. Thereafter, the minimum wage will be increased with the cost of living. Washington’s minimum wage is set to increase as follows:
On July 6, 2017, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee signed a new family and medical leave law that will offer paid leave to employees in our state to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or for a serious health condition. Washington’s new law is one of the most generous paid family leave programs in the United States. It was a bipartisan measure, passing the House on a 65-29 vote shortly after the Senate passed it on a 37-12 vote. It is titled the Washington Family Leave Act (WFLA). Contributions to the program will begin in 2019 and benefits will be available to Washington employees starting January 1, 2020.
This paid leave program brings Washington into the small group of states offering paid leave in the United States, which severely lags behind the world in national paid parental leave. According to the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA, out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a few do not have a national paid parental leave law: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific island nations, and the United States.
The Washington State Court of Appeals recently addressed an excavation contractor’s responsibilities under the Underground Utilities Damage Prevention Act (UUDPA), RCW 19.122. That statute was enacted in 2011 and imposed certain statutory duties on parties involved with projects requiring excavation.
In this case, Titan Earthworks, LLC contracted with the City of Federal Way to perform certain street improvements including installation of a new traffic signal. During the process of excavating for the traffic signal, Titan drilled into an energized underground Puget Sound Energy power line. PSE sought damages from Titan and Titan sued the City of Federal Way.
The Tunnel Boring Machine (“TBM”) known as “Bertha,” built by Hitachi Zosen Corp in Osaka, Japan, was the world’s largest TBM at 57.5 ft. in diameter. The TBM was built to drill the Seattle SR 99 Viaduct replacement tunnel. Seattle Tunnel Partners (“STP”) has a contract with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to dig the two-mile tunnel which is now complete.
In December of 2013, tunneling was stopped ostensibly because a 119 ft.-long, eight-inch diameter steel well casing halted the TBM. See 2/15 Blog “Bertha is Stuck and She Remains Mired in Controversy.” Reports are that WSDOT installed the pipe in 2002 to measure groundwater levels and the pipe was allegedly mentioned in the reference material provided to bidders. STP had assumed that the pipe had been removed until the steel casing got stuck in Bertha’s cutting teeth, halting progress. See 1/30/14 Blog “Big Bertha Stuck: Differing Site Condition Principles Revisited.”
WSDOT Seeks Retraction of Waiver Excluding Non-Minority Woman-Owned Businesses from Participation Goals
If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will likely recognize that our firm has been actively involved and concerned with the results of Washington State Department of Transportation’s (“WSDOT”) Disparity Study, which impacts both Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (“DBE”) and general contractors who bid on federally-funded projects with DBE goals. On June 1, 2017, WSDOT implemented a “waiver”, which excluded Caucasian women-owned firms (“WBEs”) from qualifying for Condition of Award DBE Goals on federally-funded projects. This drastic action was the result of WSDOT’s highly criticized 2012 Disparity Study conducted by BBC Research & Consulting of Denver, Colorado, which concluded non-minority women-owned firms do not face “substantial disparities” in the federally-funded transportation contracting market.
Subcontractor Allowed to Sue Designer for Negligence: California Courts Chip Away at the Economic Loss Doctrine (Independent Duty Rule)
An architect may have to pay over $1 million to a subcontractor who was contractually obligated to rely on the designer’s plans – even though the architect was not a party to the contract. That was the ruling in U.S. f/u/b/o Penn Air Control, Inc. v. Bilbro Constr. Co., Inc. The dispute involved a $7.3 million design-build contract award to Bilbro Construction (“Bilbro”) to renovate a facility for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Monterey, California.
Bilbro hired an architect (“FPBA”) to serve as the designer of record and provide all the architectural design services. FPBA’s design team included an acoustical sub-consultant (Sparling). The general contractor (design builder) also retained Alpha Mechanical (Alpha) as the mechanical electrical and plumbing (“MEP”) design/build subcontractor.
The implied duty of good faith and fair dealing is implied in every contract, including construction contracts. Generally speaking, this implied duty requires parties cooperate with one another so that they each obtain the full benefit of their contracted bargain. Recently, the Court of Appeals (Division II) in Nova Contracting, Inc. v. City of Olympia discussed this duty’s application to a public works contract.
In early 2014, the City of Olympia published an invitation for bids to replace a culvert that conveyed a creek underneath a paved bike trail. Nova Contracting was awarded the Project. The specifications required that Nova submit a number of submittals, the approval of which was required before Nova could commence work. The contract also provided that the City’s decision with respect to these submittals would be final and that Nova would bear all risk and costs of delays caused by non-approval of any submittals.
For several years, the requirements for which parties must be named in a lien foreclosure action when a release of lien bond is in place have been cloudy. RCW 60.04 et seq., the “mechanics’ lien” or “construction lien” statute, provides protection for a party or person who provides labor, materials, or equipment to a construction project. That person or party, if not paid, can file a lien against the construction project property to secure recovery. As the lien impacts the property by “clouding title” and could potentially result in foreclosure of the property, the statute sets forth strict requirements with respect to timing, notice, and parties. For example, the lien must be recorded within 90 days of the person or party’s last day of work or materials or equipment supplied, and the lien claimant must then give a copy of the claim of lien to the owner or reputed owner within 14 days of the lien recording. RCW 60.04.081.
Subcontractors on public projects in Washington State will no longer be required to wait until final acceptance of the project to get their retainage money. A new statute, which goes into effect on July 23, 2017 and applies only to Washington public projects, will allow subcontractors to get their retainage sooner.
Under prior law, a subcontractor could only get its retainage prior to final acceptance if the general contractor provided a retainage bond to the public owner to secure a release of the general contractor’s retainage and the subcontractor then provided a similar retainage bond to the general contractor in the amount of its own retainage. If the general contractor decided to not provide a retainage bond to the owner, the subcontractor would be forced to wait until final acceptance of the project before it could get paid its retainage.