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.
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.
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.
Construction attorneys rarely encounter state and local tax issues. However, in a recent negotiation over a disputed change proposal, an Owner’s attorney argued that Washington prohibits recovery of B&O tax as a separately-billed line item in the change proposal. Given that itemization of B&O surcharges seemed a fairly common business practice, I was initially skeptical of the position. Upon further review, it became apparent that the Owner’s argument was indeed correct and that many contractors may be unknowingly violating the law by separately itemizing and adding a percentage for B&O tax to their billings or change proposals.
A drastic change has been implemented by the Washington State Department of Transportation (“WSDOT”) to the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“DBE”) Program in Washington. Effective June 1, 2017, WSDOT has implemented a “waiver” to exclude women-owned DBEs[i] from qualifying toward Condition of Award (“COA”) Goals on federally-funded projects. This move is significant. It will likely result in long-lasting detrimental impacts on the DBE community, women-owned businesses, and the entire construction community in Washington. The construction industry should be in an uproar over this change. Instead, it has largely gone unnoticed (likely because its impacts have not yet been felt). It is a de facto exclusion of women-owned businesses from the DBE program, and the severity of this change cannot be overstated.
General Construction v. Grant County PUD: Chalkboard Notice is Invalid and Engineer Cannot Waive Notice Requirements
I previously posted a blog about the General Construction v. Grant County PUD case and the Court of Appeals’ rulings regarding notice and claim procedures.[i] The General Construction case is also noteworthy for two other issues that were raised in that case.[ii] The first issue involved whether a contractual written notice requirement is satisfied when the notice is provided on a chalkboard only. The second noteworthy issue is whether the Public Utility District’s (“PUD”) own in-house engineer could waive the contractual notice and claim procedures in the PUD’s contract.