Need to Cover Yourself for “Crisis” Changes on a Job Site? Try These Tips (guest post)

Today, we welcome back friend of the blog Christopher G. Hill. 

Chris is a  LEED AP, a Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, construction lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC.  Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals.  

His practice concentrates on mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.  [His blog, by the way, was an active influence when I was just getting started on my own blogging endeavor.]  Take it away Chris………….

Chris Hill

 

I am always happy to guest post here at Melissa’s blog (despite the fact that she went to a school with the wrong color blue) and she had a great idea for a topic (namely that in the title of this post) so I decided to run with it.  So, without further ado. . .

As construction professionals we’ve all been there.  Something happens on a job site that requires immediate attention and possibly a changed sequence of work or possibly a change to a subcontractor’s scope.  It could be a buried power line that Miss Utility failed to mark properly or an owner that wants a different HVAC configuration at the last minute.  It could also simply be that it rained too much, and work had to slow down.

The above examples are instances of items that are beyond the control of the general contractor or the subcontractors and are the type that require shifts in work schedules and changes in scope that must be dealt with on the fly and require quick decisions and immediate action if the project is to meet any time of completion reasonably close to that which is listed in the contract documents.  It can often seem that there is no time to meet the written change order provisions of any well drafted construction contract.

Of course, failing to get your change orders in writing could lead to a situation that only a construction attorney could love: ambiguity, claims and possible litigation.  So, what do you do in the “heat of battle” when the Owner or General Contractor is pushing for the change and telling you to get it done, we’ll do the paperwork later?  While anything aside from an agreed change order with the signatures of all parties is not ideal, when the circumstances keep this from happening, the following steps can keep you from losing a potential claim:

  1. Use your smartphone.

    We all carry these computers in our pockets that also happen to have an app that works like a phone. USE THEM.  When confronted with this type of situation, send an email (I personally hate texts because they’re hard to use later) with the understanding of the work to be done and either a price change or a statement that a price will be coming later in the day.  Be sure to end the email with something to the effect of “If this is not your understanding, please let me know” so that when you don’t get a reply before starting the new work, you are as covered as possible.

  2. Follow up on Number 1

    If you must use Number 1 above, be sure to fill out a claim/proposed change order the same day as the email with the proposed scope change and price.  Most construction contracts give you at most 3 days in which to file your claim or PCO if there is not one in place.  Immediate follow up will in most cases meet these deadlines.

  3. Review your contract and any Prime Contract.

    As stated above, there are deadlines in these documents.  Often there are additional and incorporated deadlines in the prime contract that may limit your follow up time even further.

  4. Don’t “punt.”

    Whatever you do, do not “punt” and fall into the trap of feeling as if you can settle up at the end of the job. Just because the relationship is friendly (or at least reasonably businesslike) at the time of the “crisis” does not mean that when the job gets to the end any paperwork omission won’t be used to avoid payment.

Of course, the ideal would be to avoid beginning the changed work until the change orders have been signed, but this is not always possible.

Great post Chris! 

Remember, without documenting project agreements, you may end up forfeiting your claims later on.  Create a good document system and use it.  During litigation, documents could make or break your case.  

Comments, thoughts, questions?  Drop a line in the comment section below.

Bonus Post: Other Notable Changes to the A201 Construction Contract (law note)

Bonus

Following our deep-dive into the newest A201 changes, and as promised in yesterday’s Insurance changes post, here are a few bonus changes to the General Conditions of the Contract:

  • If the Architect is terminated, the Owner must identify a successor Architect that the Contractor agrees with (Section 2.3.3)
  • The Contractor’s schedule is to include interim milestones and apportionment of the Work (Section 3.10.1)
  • The Contractor can rely on the accuracy of the design criteria in the Documents (Section 3.12.10.1)
  • Minor changes in the  Work- must be in writing; are deemed accepted at no cost unless Notice is given (Section 7.4)
  • The Owner may contact not only Subcontractors to determine payment, but also Suppliers (Section 9.6.4)
  • The Contractor indemnifies the Owner for lien claims, if paid in full (Section 9.6.8)

Do you have a question or comment about the A201, or the revisions to the A201?  If so, drop me a line below or through email.

Photo via AlphaStock images via Creative Commons license.

 

Contract Change #1- Insurance in the A201 (law note)

At last, we have arrived at the Top Change in the AIA A201— and it deals with the subject that everyone loves to hate (until they need it!), Insurance.  (Go here for yesterday’s post on Digitial Data changes).

Got Insurance

Insurance– everyone needs it; everyone would just as soon not have to deal with it.  I get it, I do.  Attorneys, Insurance Agents– no one likes spending time with those folk!  Good news though.  The changes to the A201 mean that you may end up spending less time with both!

The most important change to the Insurance requirements of the AIA contract is that most of it has moved to a new Exhibit.  Why is this important?  Instead of having to send the entire contract to your agent or broker, you can now send them only the section that they really need to review for compliance.  This also means that if insurance policies change (as they surely will), the entire contract document does not need to be re-written– the Exhibit can be updated accordingly, leaving the rest of the A201 alone.  Nice, right?  This change was made to streamline insurance review and provide for that flexibility of the changing insurance market.

Does this mean that there are *no* insurance requirements in the A201 anymore?  Unfortunately, no.  There are still some insurance provisions in Article 11, such as the requirement that both parties maintain insurance.  (11.1.1 and 11.2.1).

Most notably, it is now the Owner & Contractor, and not the insurer’s, requirement to provide each other with notice of cancellation/expiration within 3 days.  (Section 11.1.4 and 11.2.3).  The party receiving notice can stop work until the insurance lapse is cured.  The reason for the notification change is that prior editions of the A201 required that the insurer notify the Owner of a pending lapse in insurance.  That provision was ultimately removed from the certificates of insurance issued by most insurers, so it was eliminated as a requirement to codify what was happening on the ground between the parties.

There are also some changes to property insurance losses.  The Owner must notify the Contractor of proposed settlements and allocations, and the Contractor has 14 days to object or he will be bound by the allocation.  (See 11.5.2).

The main take-away here is that most insurance will now be in a streamlined, stand-alone exhibit which will make it easier for you to ensure your agent/broker is on board with the requirements before work begins.

In case you are wondering why, as the architect or engineer, you need worry about insurance of the contractor, just remember that it is in your own financial interest to make sure they are properly insured for the project.

That’s it.  You’ve made it through the Top 10 changes.  I do have a few other changes of note, which will be in my next post.  Stay tuned!  As always, if you have any comments or questions, drop me a line or comment below.

Photo (c) CheapFullCoverageAutoInsurance.com

Contract Change #2- Digital Data in the A201 (law note)

BinaryDataComing in at #2 on our Top A201 Contract Changes is Digital Data.  (Yesterday’s post on Termination for Convenience changes is here.)

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is fast becoming common place on larger construction projects.  However, there are multiple risks associated with using digital formats that can be manipulated by multiple parties.

In the 2017 revisions to the A201, there is now a requirement that data protocols be established concerning the development, use, transmission, and exchange of all digital data, including BIM data.  (See Section 1.7).

The E203 form is the suggested document to create the digital protocol.  Note, however, that if the parties have not established a protocol, the use of any digital data is at that party’s own risk.  (Section 1.8).

Further, revised section 3.11 clarifies that the Contractor can keep contract documents, change orders, construction change directives, and other modifications at the site only in electronic format, if it so chooses.

Again, a common theme about these contract changes– they are small, but they are important.  As the designer of record, it is vital that you play a lead role in determining the who/what/when/where/why of data transmission.

Tomorrow, we finally come to Contract Change #1, dealing with Insurance.  It’s a doozy! Stay tuned!

 

Photo (c) W. Rebel via Creative Commons.

 

 

Contract Change #3- Termination for Convenience in A201 (law note)

money down drainToday in the Top 10 Changes to the A201, we are discussing Termination for Convenience provisions.  (Yesterday’s post discussing contract changes dealing with commencement & completion is here).  The Termination for Convenience provision (14.4.3) has an interesting history which explains why this small, but very specific, change was made.

Termination for Convenience, an exclusive owner right, was added in the AIA contracts in 1997.  However, contractors and architects were losing the benefit of their bargains, including the fixed overhead and the fee or profit on the portion of Work which was terminated.

To alleviate that problem, in 2007, the contracts were revised to allow the contractor/architect to get payment for work executed, costs of termination, and reasonable overhead and profit on the work not executed.

As many of you know too well, Owners, in response, often completely struck through that provision, denying any overhead or profit for work not yet performed after a termination for convenience.

In the 2017 revision, the A201 (as well as the related Owner-Architect agreements), the automatic entitlement is eliminated, in favor of a fill point to prompt the parties to discuss a fair fee before the project begins.

A negotiated amount also serves to liquidate the Owner’s liability to the Contractor (lost business opportunity and overhead and profit on the Contractor’s unperformed work).  However, the fee is not necessarily designed to completely liquidate the Owner’s liability to the Contractor’s downstream parties.

To protect the Owner from downstream claims, the A401 will need to be edited and coordinated, so that the Owner’s entire liability to the Contractor, inclusive of subcontractors and suppliers, is established in the Termination fill point.

Likewise, if you utilize subconsultants in your architecture or engineering practice, be sure that your contracts are likewise modified to track your entitlement for termination expenses.

Tomorrow, Change #2, dealing with Digital Data.

Photo (c) TaxRebate.org.uk via Creative Commons.

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