Learn from SONY: Don’t use trash talk in your construction project emails!

Bears hibernating

A hibernating bear and her cubs

Lessons in construction administration come from everywhere — including the SONY scandal.

In case you are a bear hibernating in a cave (in which case, go back to sleep!), you’ve heard about the SONY hacking that was apparently, but not definitively, done by North Korea due to their displeasure over the movie The Interview.  And, you may have found it amusing to read of the inner bickering at SONY, at lease until the threat of a national incident and the (at least temporary) yanking of the movie from its planned Christmas release.

Lost in all of the discussion about taste, censorship, security, and First Amendment rights, however, was a simple lesson for each of us.  Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the TMZ report, the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times.  For example, don’t call one of the biggest stars in your studio (Angelina Jolie) a “minimally talented spoiled brat.”

I’ve written about this before, but this is a fine time to remind you that someday, someone will read your emails.  And that someone will not be privy to your internal jokes, quirky sense of humor, or understand that you just had a bad day.  If you have to have those awkward conversations– have them in person, or at least on the phone.  Don’t play around with written communications.  Every email, text, tweet, Facebook post, letter, note, or diary entry can be discoverable in a lawsuit.

We’ve all done it.  Sent inappropriate emails.  Vents.  Laments.  Stop.  Endeavor to be boring rather than funny in all of your online accounts.  You may be only laughing on the inside, but you’ll still have a job, respect, and knowledge that there are no hidden documents waiting to shame you at the stroke of a hacker’s keyboard.  And, tell your employees to do the same.

Do you have an example of getting an inadvertent email or text?  Something that could have been embarrassing if it leaked beyond your firm?  Share in the comments below.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wake County Justice Center- a LEED Silver Project done right!

Justice Center

The atrium

Yesterday evening, I had the privilege of attending the Triangle USGBC’s  “Talk & Walk” at the Wake County Justice Center.  The 576,996 square foot Justice Center was completed 6 months early and over 30 million under budget.  (The final cost, including soft costs, came in at ~$141,000,000).  Now that’s what I call a LEED project done right!

Interestingly, the County did not endeavor for a LEED Silver rating– the plan was to aim for a Certification.  However, as the process unfolded, the Team kept meeting the goals and points for a Silver certification without any appreciable additional costs.

The end result?  An “iconic but energy efficient building,” according to Tim Ashby, current Wake County Facilities Project Manager.  Tim was initially involved in the Project while working at O’Brien Atkins, which served as the architecture firm for the Project under the direction of Architect Andrew Zwiacher.

The Project was a Construction Manager at Risk project, involving a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Construction and Barnhill Contracting Company.   Did the contract type contribute to the success of the Project?  According to Project representatives, it likely was responsible for the 6 month early completion due to the high level of coordination.

Energy efficiency in the Building comes from the low flow plumbing (total water savings of 45%, 15% more than LEED requires), programmable and natural daylighting, and almost 98% construction waste diversion.

Jury Room

The large & relaxing Jury waiting room

Another interesting legal factoid: BIM (Building Information Modeling) was utilized.  Through BIM, a conflict was discovered in the space allocated for the air handling units versus the planned size of those units.  This discovery enabled a change to the AHU units (to make them wider and shorter) prior to manufacturer, saving untold delays in time and increases in cost.  We’ll talk more later about the pros (and cons) of BIM, but suffice it to say it worked very well on this Project.

If you haven’t been by to see the Justice Center yet, please do.  It’s a great design (17 elevators!), and a great change from the old Courthouse across the street.

Have you seen the Justice Center yet?  Thoughts on the design?  Share in the comments below.

Photos (c) Melissa Brumback. .Creative Commons License

 

 

Consequential Damages: What are they? Should I waive them? (law note)

A client asked me about a contract he was asked to sign in which consequential damages were being waived.  Consequential damages are those things that cost money which arise indirectly out of a failure of a party on a construction project.   dollar signsThey can include:

  • loss of use
  • loss of rent
  • loss of profit
  • loss of bonding capacity
  • extended overhead
  • extended equipment rental fees
  • increased material costs
  • interest

Note that this is not an exhaustive list, and other consequential damages may be applicable depending on the project.

Often, like my client, you may be asked to waive consequential damages.  This is a double edged sword.  If the waiver is mutual (something on which you should insist), then the provision may save you money in the event your design or services delay the project.  The Owner has agreed that it cannot seek to recover indirect, consequential damages.  On the other hand, if you are the one suing the Owner, it means that there may be costs that you cannot be compensated for if a project goes awry.

The standard industry contracts all have at least some waiver of consequential damages, as noted in this chart.

waiver in form contractsBottom line: waiver of consequentials can be a good thing or a bad thing, but you will not know which when you are signing on the dotted line.

Just make sure that if there is a waiver, that it is mutual on both sides.  Good luck, and “be safe out there

Your turn.  Have you ever waived your right to consequentials?  Horror story to share about paying someone else’s costs?  Share in the comment section.

Dollar Photo (c) sivlen001.
Chart (c) Melissa Brumback Creative Commons License

Is there a dead body in your future? The first sign of trouble on the construction project (Law & Order: Hard Hat files Part 1)

fake dead bodyNobody dies in a construction dispute.  At least most of the time!

However, just as the usual “thunk-thunk” chord in Law & Order warns the viewer that something is awry, there are warning signs that your construction project may be under similar dire straights.  You should recognize these signs for what they are—early-warning lawsuit detection devices.  Signs that a lawsuit may be in your future include:

  1. The  “everything has gone wrong” situation.  This one is fairly big and obvious, but it bears mentioning.  If the project is delayed, over budget, and there are signs that the owner is looking for someone to take the fall, watch out.
  2. Much more subtle, but equally troubling, is the start acting squirrely” syndrome.  If you have always had a good working relationship with the general contractor, but suddenly he is aloof, watch out.  If the owner is usually friendly and free with the flow of information, and he suddenly begins to clam up, be concerned.
  3. The let’s document everything” protocol.  Now, as a lawyer, I feel duty bound to tell you that I think documenting everything is best management practice.  However, I do know that most normal folk don’t usually behave this way 24/7.  So, if you are on a project where a contractor likes to write letters to the file almost as much as he does change order requests, be leery.  Could be he just listens well to his lawyer’s proactive advice to document everything.  Or, could be he is preparing a case from the get-go to claim design failures, construction administration delays, and the like.  How to tell the difference?  Often, you can only go with your gut.  But take note—is Mr. Letter Writer documenting everything, or just items that might be considered “blame-able” ?
  4. The I’m confused” RFI king.   Similar to #3 above, but more specific, the confused RFI king always seems to need clarification or further information about your design.  The requests for information flow so fast, you may have trouble responding timely.  This may be part of the plan.  Or, it may simply be a numbers game— either the contractor is asking RFIs to buy time on the project (often on a case with strong liquidated damages provisions), or he wants to later be able to point out the “excess number of RFIs” to prove “bad design.”

 Now that you’ve caught the whiff of trouble brewing, how do you stop it before the dead body smell takes up residence in your car?  Observe, document, and respond in kind.

If you are dealing with an RFI king, respond timely, and note when the RFI is asking for information that is readily available on the plans.  You might even consider keeping your own running log of questionable RFIs, so you can readily show your lawyer, and a future jury, that although there may have appeared to be a large number of RFIs on the project, the fact was that most of them (X percentage) were questions about something that the contractor should have already known if he had reviewed the plans.

If you have a “document everything” guy on your hands,  respond in kind.  You should be doing this anyhow, of course, but if you have someone that is especially prone to documenting everything, you need to be extra vigilant that he is not stating anything that is untruthful, that the documentation is complete, and that any time you get a document that doesn’t completely tell “the truth, the whole truth”, that you supplement it with your own documentation accordingly.

If you have a squirrely acting client, you might consider just politely confronting him to ask if anything is going on.  It could be something that has nothing to do with the project –  internal politics, personnel crises, etc.  In which case, you will find that out.  If there is something more sinister afoot, you can probably determine that as well.  The key here is to ask whoever you are (or had been) close to, and to ask them off the record, in person.  You can learn a whole lot through non-verbal body language.  If you find out, directly or indirectly, that there may be a claim afoot, then you can proceed accordingly.

If the project has gone to hell in a handbasket, there is not a whole lot you can do, other than to keep ensuring that you and your team are meeting all contract requirements.  Part of this should include documentation for the eventual lawsuit, if it comes to that.  You might also contact your lawyer or insurance company for assistance behind the scenes—something called “loss prevention”.  Remember, reporting the dead body is the first step to clearing the air.  It’s the cover up that usually gets folks in trouble.

Now it’s your turn.  Drop me a note or comment below to share your own techniques for recognizing possible lawsuits.  Next week in the series: the mechanics of being sued.  Stay tuned!

Photo (which is not of a *real* dead body) (c) garlandcannon via cc. 

 

Play Nicely in the Sandbox (or, Why GC’s and Subs Should Get Along) (guest post)

Chris HillToday’s guest post is from Christopher G. Hill, lawyer, Virginia Supreme Court certified General District Court mediator and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.

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First off, thanks to Melissa for this opportunity to post here at Construction Law in North Carolina. Having co-presented with her and discussed construction contracting from all perspectives, I can safely say she’s good at what she does and shares great insight here at her blog.

Now that the formalities are out of the way, I thought I’d share my thoughts as one who represents many subcontractors and general contractors on the topic of good relationships meaning good business. I am always a bit surprised at the failure of either side of the GC/Sub dynamic to act in a businesslike manner.

Remember, the General Contractor and the subs are in the boat together in many ways. They both have a job to do and, ultimately, an owner at the top of the payment food chain that is looking to get a project done on time. Ultimately, they both have an architect/engineer representing the owner that may or may not be up on the job (sorry Melissa) and may not be trained in project management. If the general and its subs aren’t “playing well in the sandbox” together, the relationships up and down the project chain get all out of whack and cause delays in completion and importantly in payment.

Another phenomenon that happens more frequently than I would like is the general contractor “burning” good subcontractors in an area through making payment (particularly final payment) difficult to receive. While this type of activity occurs on what I am sure is the minority of projects (and fully acknowledging that my practice makes me think that Murphy was an optimist) I am always flabbergasted by this sort of treatment given to a subcontractor that should be helping pull the boat.

While it is obvious that subs need to play nice with GC’s because they have the money, it may seem less obvious how the above can hurt a general contractor. The short answer (and don’t worry I won’t be going into the long one) is that burning good subs eventually means that good subs won’t work with you. Subs talk to each other. Your reputation will precede you. Eventually the economy will improve and you won’t be the only game in town. Not to mention that such actions are the stuff of which claims are made.

In short, getting along costs your local construction lawyer money because he or she doesn’t get to go to court for you. It is almost always less expensive to get along, finish the job and work out payment than to get we attorneys involved in the construction claims process.

To make a long story somewhat less long, GC’s work with the subs and subs, play nice with the GC’s. It’s the best way to a lower stress project and a higher monetary payoff.

Thanks, Chris, for your insights from the contractor’s side of things.  Even if you did (politely) slam the hard-working design professionals.  Reader, now it’s your turn.  Share your thoughts, comments, or questions with Chris or me in the comment section, below.

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