Liquidated Damages: what, when, & why

water dropWhat are Liquidated Damages?

Liquidated Damages are a sum which a party to a contract agrees to pay or a deposit he agrees to forfeit, if he breaks some promise.  In the construction realm, liquidated damages (or “LDs”) usually involve money damages for time delays on a construction project.    Typically, a contract will state that time is “of the essence” and that for every day past the scheduled completion date (as modified by change orders & directives) a set amount is due from the contractor to the owner.

When can you get liquidated damages? (or, when must you pay liquidated damages?)

Liquidated damages must be specified in the contract up front.  They should reflect the reasonable estimate of likely damages that will be incurred if the contractor fails to complete the project timely.

To be enforceable, the amount must have been arrived at by a good-faith effort to estimate in advance the actual damage that would likely ensue from the breach, and they cannot be deemed “penalties.”  Eastern Carolina Internal Medicine, P.A. v. Faidas,  149 N.C.App. 940,  564 S.E.2d 53 (2002).

Why?

The purpose of liquidated damages is to reasonably compensate the non-breaching party (typically, the owner for construction delays) which it will likely incur as a result of the breach (e.g., the extended completion date results in lost rent and increase finance charges).  Without the liquidated damages provision, the parties would be forced to argue about each alleged cost the owner incurred because of the delay.  With liquidated damages, the amount is known ahead of time which should (theoretically) lead to fewer arguments later.

When doesn’t the provision work?

Two words—concurrent delay.  If the owner is delaying the project (through, for example, failure to deliver/install owner-provided equipment), but the contractor is also behind on completion, the two delays may run at the same time—hence “concurrent delay”.  In such a situation it becomes difficult if not altogether impossible to separate delays and delay damages.  Of course, if the entire delay is owner-related, no liquidated damages can be assessed.

Take-away message

Liquidated damage provisions, if carefully and properly drafted, are enforced in North Carolina.  You should know your schedule requirements prior to signing on the dotted line and, if necessary, accelerate your work to complete on time.  If you are the owner, however, you also have responsibilities not to interfere with the schedule if you hope to have a chance at recovering liquidated damages from a contractor who delivers a project late.

Questions?  Comments?  Experience with the joys (and sorrows) of LDs?  Share in the comments below.

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Photo “Water drop bouncing off the water surface” by konradc via Picasa/Creative Commons License.

Timing can be everything (Tues Tip)

alarm clockIt is always easiest, cheapest, and surest to deal with legal issues right away.   Problems ignored are problems amplified.  A recent North Carolina Court of Appeals cases prove the point:

In the recent NC Court of Appeals case Meier v. City of Charlotte (Aug. 17th, 2010), the Court held that a zoning administrator’s determination could not be appealed because the plaintiff failed to appeal within the 30 days provided by law and, therefore the Board of Adjustment no longer had jurisdiction to hear the appeal.  The petitioners are left to live next to an (allegedly) 50 foot tall house.

This case demonstrates that timeliness is crucial to your case when dealing with the courts.  Don’t delay if you think you have a cause of action, because delay could mean you lose before your case even gets out of the gate.

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Photo “Alarm Clock”  by Freefoto.com via Creative Commons License.

Want a peek into some beautiful homes? (Tues Tip)

 magnifying glassThere are several home tours coming up in the Triangle in the next several weeks, so get out your calendar and make plans to check one or more of them out.  Stunning architecture is promised.  Who can resist taking a peek?

First up, the 14th annual Triangle Modernist Houses Tour  “Exceptional Modernist Houses from the 1950’s to today”.  The TMH tour is Saturday, September 25th in Raleigh.  [Did you know: the Triangle area of North Carolina has the third largest concentration of modernist houses in America?].

Next up, the first ever AIA Homes Tour on the East Coast, the AIA Triangle Homes Tour is scheduled for October 2nd. The homes featured are all the result of the collaboration between an architect and homeowner.  Each home was designed with the specific needs of the homeowner in mind, integrating the family’s personality, preferences and lifestyle, and illustrates the range of projects, styles and budgets that architects work with.

Finally, the annual Home Builders Association of Raleigh – Wake County Parade of Homes is scheduled for Oct. 2-3, Oct. 8-10, and Oct. 15-17.  Details on home specifics will be forthcoming, so keep a watch on their website.

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Photo “Eye See You” by Cayusa via Flickr/Creative Commons License.

My 15 minutes of fame! (Twitter Transcript)

megaphoneAs I mentioned earlier in the week, I had a real time twitter interview  with @22 Tweets.

In case you missed it, here’s the transcript.  [Before you think I lack any knowledge of how to craft a sentence, keep in mind the 140 character limitation of the Twitter world!].

For any of my legal tweeting friends, if you haven’t done so, you should get on Lance’s schedule for your own interview.  It’s not painful– I promise!

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Photo “This is not a social media megaphone” by altemark via Flickr/Creative Commons License.

What is Indemnity, and why should you care?

barber shop poleIf you have ever asked a lawyer to review your construction contracts (and you should have), you may have noticed that lawyers get very excited over the indemnity provisions that may or may not be in the contracts you are contemplating signing.  What are indemnity provisions, and why should you care?

What is it?

Quite simply, an indemnity provision is a statement that one of the parties agrees to pay any sums the other party might otherwise be legally required to pay to a third party.  Now that I’ve mentioned picking up someone else’s tab, I hope I have your attention.  As you might imagine, an indemnity provision can be a costly item, so you should have a thorough understanding of what such a provision means.

In general, indemnity provisions are contractual, and contract rules concerning them apply.  What that means is, if the contract says you will pay for the owner/builder/developer/designer’s legal liabilities to others, you may have to open the checkbook.

Common Indemnity Provision

An example of one type of indemnity provision is AIA A201 3.18.1, which states:

To the fullest extent permitted by law the Contractor shall indemnify and hold harmless the Owner, Architect, Architect’s consultants, and agents and employees of any of them from and against claims, damages, losses and expenses, including but not limited to attorneys’ fees, arising out of or resulting from performance of the Work, provided that such claim, damage, loss or expense is attributable to bodily injury, sickness, disease or death, or to injury to or destruction of tangible property (other than the Work itself), but only to the extent caused by the negligent acts or omissions of the Contractor, a Subcontractor, anyone directly or indirectly employed by them or anyone for whose acts they may be liable, regardless of whether or not such claim, damage, loss or expense is caused in part by a party indemnified hereunder. . . .

When is it not legal?

There are some exceptions to the general applicability of indemnity provisions in North Carolina—most noticeably: you cannot be indemnified against your own negligence.  If an indemnity provision purports to indemnify one party against that person’s own negligence, public policy and state law prohibit such an indemnification in North Carolina  The applicable statute N.C. Gen. Stat. §22B-1, which reads:

§ 22B-1. Construction indemnity agreements invalid

Any promise or agreement in, or in connection with, a contract or agreement relative to the design, planning, construction, alteration, repair or maintenance of a building, structure, highway, road, appurtenance or appliance, including moving, demolition and excavating connected therewith, purporting to indemnify or hold harmless the promisee, the promisee’s independent contractors, agents, employees, or indemnitees against liability for damages arising out of bodily injury to persons or damage to property proximately caused by or resulting from the negligence, in whole or in part, of the promisee, its independent contractors, agents, employees, or indemnitees, is against public policy and is void and unenforceable. Nothing contained in this section shall prevent or prohibit a contract, promise or agreement whereby a promisor shall indemnify or hold harmless any promisee or the promisee’s independent contractors, agents, employees or indemnitees against liability for damages resulting from the sole negligence of the promisor, its agents or employees.
[Emphasis added].

However, construction indemnity clauses indemnifying a party for its own negligence can be valid and enforceable so long as the offending portion of the indemnity clause can be redacted (that is, stricken from the paragraph).  Vecellio & Grogan, Inc. v. Piedmont Drilling & Blasting, Inc., 183 N.C.App. 66, 644 S.E.2d 16 (2007).  In the example of the AIA A207 provision above, the phrase “To the fullest extent permitted by law” acts to keep the phrase within the permissible parameters of North Carolina law.  Therefore, if you signed a contract with such a provision, you may be on the hook.

Be Careful with Indemnity Provisions

Not all indemnity provisions are equal.  Some, such as in the above example, make attorney fees part of the expense which is passed along.  Others expressly exclude attorney fees.  Some provisions include a “duty to defend” on behalf of the other party, while others are silent on that issue.  What is most important is that you recognize that such language is extremely important and should be discussed in detail with your knowledgeable construction lawyer.

As with getting your hair cut, you could do it yourself, but should you?

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Photo “Barber Shop Pole” by MyEyeSees via Flickr/Creative Commons License.

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