Construction Law Blog
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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.
Implied warranties are warranties created by law, legislation, or courts. In the construction industry, one of the most prominent implied warranties is that owners who provide plans and specifications to their contractors impliedly warrant the adequacy of their plans and specifications.[i] That implied warranty had its beginning in the 1918 US Supreme Court decision of U.S. v. Spearin[ii] and is, therefore, popularly known as the Spearin Doctrine. Under the Spearin Doctrine, if the contractor completes the work in accordance with the owner’s plans and specifications, but there is a deficiency or failure, the owner, not the contractor, is responsible. When the owner breaches its implied warranty, in most instances, the contractor is entitled to additional compensation for extra work performed, delays experienced, and other additional expense or loss occasioned by the warranty breach. A recent case demonstrates that this implied warranty is not “immunity.” The contractor must still act reasonably and diligently, particularly when the contract provisions so require.
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.
Breach of Implied Warranty Under Attack; Contractor Organizations Urge the Supreme Court Not to Change the Longstanding Law—Review Denied
In June 2006, King County awarded VPFK (Vinci Construction Grands Projects, Parsons RCI, Frontier-Kemper) a Brightwater Project tunneling work contract. The County specified which boring machine (the Slurry Tunnel Boring Machine “STBM” method) was to be utilized in performing the work. During performance, VPFK’s progress was substantially slower than anticipated because the County-specified STBM method was not suitable for the work to be performed under the soil conditions. The STBM ultimately failed, and VPFK’s performance was behind schedule.
Mandatory Attorneys’ Fee Award for Actions Brought Under the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act
In Washington, RCW 19.122 (the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act or “Call Before You Dig” statute) provides for the protection of underground utilities. The statute was recently updated in 2013 and provides that homeowners and contractors must call “811” to schedule a “utility locate” prior to commencing any excavation. Failure to do so can result in steep penalties, as well as a mandatory fee award for the prevailing party.
Under Washington’s timber trespass statute, a timber trespass occurs when a person cuts down, girdles, or otherwise injures or carries off any tree, including a Christmas tree, timber, or shrub on the land of another. The timber trespass statute is penal in nature, and its purpose is to “(1) punish a voluntary offender, (2) provide treble damages, and (3) discourage persons from carelessly or intentionally removing another’s merchantable shrubs or trees on the gamble that the enterprise will be profitable if only actual damages are incurred.”
At times, both public and private owners succumb to the temptation of taking back what was given to a contractor through a differing site conditions clause by including disclaimers in their contracts as to the reliability of site condition information supplied in the bidding documents. The disclaimers may be specific statements, such as “no claims for differing site conditions will be recognized regarding the absence or presence of subsurface rock or unstable rock conditions,” or general statements, such as “the contractors shall not rely upon any contract indications or owner furnished information, but should make their own soils analysis.” The effectiveness of these disclaimers depends upon the specific language used. The more general the language, the more likely the disclaimer will be rejected. The outcome also depends on the jurisdiction in which a party attempts to enforcement of the disclaimer.
Release from Condominium Owners Association Precludes Claims by General Contractor Against Subcontractor, Except for Defense Costs
Recently, the Washington State Court of Appeals addressed a dispute between a general contractor and its windows subcontractor in connection with the construction of the Admiral Way Mixed-Use Project in West Seattle.
In Bordak Bros., Inc. v. Pac. Coast Stucco, LLC, the developer of the Admiral Way Mixed-Use Project hired Ledcor Industries (USA), Inc. (“Ledcor”) as its general contractor, and Ledcor hired Starline Windows, Inc. (“Starline”) to supply window products for the Project. After the Project was completed, the Condominium Owners Association (“COA”) discovered defects in the building and sued the developer, who then brought suit against Ledcor. Ledcor then commenced suit against its subcontractors and suppliers. Ledcor did not initially name Starline as a defendant to its claims.