Construction Law Blog
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Another court in Washington was asked to apply the Mike M. Johnson[i] decision to a contractor’s claim for extra work. This time it was the Division III Court of Appeals in Washington. The Division III Court of Appeals, which covers all of Eastern Washington, had a hand in the original Mike M. Johnson case. That court is the intermediary court that ruled in favor of the contractor in Mike M. Johnson. It held that there were issues of fact as to whether Spokane County, in the Mike M. Johnson case, had actual notice of the changed conditions and, thus, waived the notice and claim procedures that the County was attempting to rely upon. The Division III Court of Appeals was later overruled by the Washington State Supreme Court, which held as a matter of law that the County of Spokane had not waived the notice and claim procedures. This time around, the Division III Court of Appeals, for the most part, ruled in favor of the public entity and followed the Mike M. Johnson decision.
Generally, contractors choose arbitration because it is a cost-effective method of dispute resolution, and primarily because an award issued in arbitration is final. Vacating an arbitration award is only permitted on very narrow grounds. A party must demonstrate that the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means, or that an arbitrator exceeded his/her power (very high burdens). Arbitration rules in other states are similar to the Washington statute. Stated simply, it is very difficult to reverse an arbitration award—or is it? These two cases do not indicate a trend but do remind us that an arbitrator’s power is limited to that power granted to him/her by contract.
For government contractors, an unfavorable performance rating review posted to the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (“CPARS”) can be extremely costly. Many of the government-negotiated solicitations include past performance as an important, and sometimes even primary, evaluation factor for contract award. An unfavorable CPARS review on a past contract can cause the contractor to incur substantial extra costs in addressing the unfavorable review with contracting officers on future solicitations, and, in some instances, the contractor saddled with an unfair or inaccurate CPARS may have to challenge the review and recover some of these costs.
King County Superior Court issued sanctions of $1,641,721 in favor of Gefco and against Cascade Drilling, Inc. and its President, Bruce Niermeyer, composed of $1,394,435 in attorneys’ fees and $247,286 in expert fees.
Cascade Drilling is a contractor. Gefco manufactures and sells large drilling machinery. The dispute centered around a project that began in 2008. Cascade was hired to drill a water well at a housing development in Wheeler Canyon, California. Cascade used a 50K drilling rig purchased from Gefco. The pump drive shafts on the drilling rig failed four times. After each failure, Cascade ordered a replacement pump drive shaft from Gefco.
A customer shopping at Walmart’s outdoor garden center in Clarkston, Washington, reached down to brush aside a stick covering a price tag for bags of mulch stored on wooden pallets. The “stick” turned out to be a rattlesnake, and bit his hand.
The customer sued Walmart on the legal basis of “premises liability,” claiming that as Walmart’s business invitee (one who enters the owner’s property primarily for the owner’s benefit), the store owed him a duty to warn or guard against hazardous conditions such as the rattlesnake.
Many construction contracts contain a termination clause that allows a contractor to be terminated either for convenience or for cause. Termination for convenience and termination for cause clauses have been discussed previously on the blog here, here, and here. The distinction between a termination for convenience or for cause is an important one.
If a contractor is terminated for convenience, the rights of the party who has terminated the contractor for convenience could be limited in the future. This is specifically true as to any defects in the terminated contractor’s work that are discovered after the termination for convenience.
Washington Courts allow an insurer to determine its duty to defend an insured against a lawsuit based only on the face of the complaint and the limitations of the insurance policy. This is otherwise known as the “eight corners” rule (four corners of the complaint plus the four corners of the policy). In other words, the insurance company is not permitted to rely on facts extrinsic to the complaint in order to deny its duty to defend an insured. See Truck Ins. Exch. v. VanPort Homes, Inc., 147 Wn.2d 751, 763 (2002). The laws in Washington provide greater protection to the insured over the insurer when it comes to the insurer’s duty to defend. The duty to defend a claim is triggered if a claim could “conceivably” be covered under the policy. See Woo v. Fireman’s Insurance, 161 Wn.2d 43 (2007). If there is any ambiguity in a policy with regard to coverage, the ambiguity is interpreted in favor of the insured.
Indemnity Clauses That Conflict with Oregon Indemnity Statute Can Remain Partially Valid and Enforceable
When the indemnity provision of a contract conflicts with ORS 30.140, it is voided to the extent that it conflicts with the statute, but no more. Such provisions can remain partially valid and enforceable.[i] In Montara Owner Assn., the owner brought claims against the contractor for construction defects and damage relating to the construction of 35 townhouses. Contractor then brought third-party claims against more than 20 subcontractors for breach of contract and indemnity. Before trial, contractor settled with all but one subcontractor. The subcontract contained an indemnity provision requiring subcontractor to indemnify contractor for losses arising out of subcontractor’s work, including losses caused in part by contractor’s own negligence.
This is the seventh post in our “Top 10 Construction Contract Provisions” series. Prior posts discussed Price and Payment, Liquidated Damages, Consequential Damages – Part I and Part II, Indemnity, Scope of Work, and Flow-Down Provisions.
Today’s topic, Changes and Claims, is a contender for the top spot on our list, for both day-to-day impact on the job and importance in disputes. In fact, these provisions[i] are so variable and are involved in so many reported construction law decisions, that this post will not attempt to survey all their various forms, uses, or potential legal ramifications, but instead focuses on bottom line “best practices”—questions to consider as a general contractor, subcontractor, or owner when drafting, negotiating, or managing the Changes and Claims provisions of a contract. There is no “ideal” here, and the changes and claims procedures should be suited to the project, owner, contractor(s), likely issues, and other project-specific considerations. Key considerations include the following:
The Prompt Payment Act Obligation is Not Triggered When the Owner Holds Less Retention from the General Contractor
Most states have laws known as “prompt payment” statutes which govern the timing of payments on public works projects from project owners to general contractors, and from general contractors to subcontractors. The purpose of these statutes is to ensure that contractors and subcontractors who may have less leverage than the project owners and prime contractors, respectively, are paid for their work on a timely basis.