For Engineers & Architects: Top 10 Construction Law in NC Blog Posts

top10Since I have so many newer readers here at Construction Law NC, I thought a brief summary of some of the most popular posts might be helpful.  (I have also added this list to the About Me & Contact Info page, in case you want to refer to it later).

Presented below are the top 10 posts by popularity (although the list does fluctuate some):

  1. “Substantial Completion” on the Construction Project: How is it defined?  (always a popular post; owners want every last paint scratch fixed before they are willing to consider the project complete)
  2. The Sticky Statute of Limitations in NC  (the general rule: 3 years from date of service; however, there are many exceptions)
  3. Statute of Repose: Putting your Risk to Bed  (after 6 years, in North Carolina, even the exceptions to statutes of limitations don’t help)
  4. Planning Ahead for Additional Compensation  (money; cause, we all need to get paid!)
  5. Spring Cleaning: 6 Contract law tips for limiting risk on construction projects  (contracts are the first step in limiting your risk- read here to learn how to make them effective)
  6. How to Smartly Handle Project Documents  (your policies and procedures with documents can make or break a lawsuit)
  7. The Architect’s and Engineer’s “Standard of Care”  (note: perfection is NOT the standard!)
  8. Design Error and the Spearin Doctrine (why your designs must actually, you know, work!)
  9. Active vs. Passive Negligence (sharing the blame, unequally, when something goes wrong)
  10. Adding an “Additional Insured” in the Professional Services Agreement: an exercise in futility!  (for those times when you have an obtuse owner- show them this!)

Are there other posts that you think should be added to this “Best of” collection?  Wish I had written a post on your pet topic?  Share below.

Photo (c) Independent Association of Businesses.

Is your design professional construction contract too friendly? (law note)

not friendlyMy husband often travels the back roads between Chapel Hill and Fuquay Varina to visit friends.  En route (a circuitous route that goes past Sharon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, among other places), he passes by the “Friendly Grocery”.  For those who haven’t had the pleasure, here is a photo of the side of the building in all its glory.

In case you cannot read the list of forbidden activities, I’m re-printed them here (complete with spelling error):

not friendly sign

I’m not sure which is the “friendly” part of that sign.  In fact, the sign seems to be the antithesis of friendly.

What does this have to do with your construction contracts?  Sometimes, in an effort to please the client and/or secure the project, architects and engineers have the habit of being too friendly in their contract language.  That is, you make promises or proposals that may promise too much of a good thing for the client.  This can cause big problems.  Bigger than being towed away from a rural grocery store in the middle of nowhere.  You could be putting your insurance coverage at risk.

Have you ever promised to use “best efforts” in your design or plans?  Promised to design to a specific LEED standard?  Guaranteed 100% satisfaction?  You might be putting your errors & omission coverage at issue.  By warrantying or guaranteeing something, you are assuming a level of liability well beyond the standard of care required by law.  By law, you only need to conform to the standard of care, and your insurance will only provide coverage up to that standard of care.  In other words, if you make guarantees or promise “best efforts,” you are contracting to something that will *not* be insured.  If something goes wrong, you will be without the benefit of your professional liability coverage.

Instead, make sure that your contracts, and proposals, are not too friendly to the client.  Sure, agree to work in accordance with the standard of care of professional architects/engineers.   But don’t make guarantees, or promise “best” efforts.  In fact, you might want to educate your client on why you cannot make such guarantees, and why anyone who does (i.e., your competition) is putting their insurance coverage at risk.  Owners want and need you to stay within the bounds of your coverage.  You need to, also.  Maybe the owner of the Friendly Grocery was on to something there.

Your turn.  Have you ever used language that jeopardized your insurance protection?  Uncertain if you have?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Photo (c) Melissa Brumback  Creative Commons License

Engineering for the Earthquake- Dumbarton Bridge (News Note)

Engineers who design in earthquake-prone areas know that they need to design the seismic loads of their bridges to account for potential massive shifts during a quake.  (This is what is legally known as the professional standard of care, which takes into account what similar engineers, in the same conditions and community, would consider acceptable design)**.  The Dumbarton Bridge, the farthest south bridge across the San Francisco Bay, is no exception to this rule.

Currently, the Dumbarton Bridge is being renovated as part of the San Francisco Bay Area Toll Bridge Seismic Retrofit Program.  When the bridge is finished (expected in early 2013), the bridge will increase its ability to move from 20 inches of lateral movement to as much as 42 inches of lateral movement.

Dumbarton BridgeThe retrofit includes friction pendulum bearings designed by Earthquake Protection  Systems, Inc., which will isolate the superstructure from two pier structures where the main span of the bridge meets the approach structures.  A concrete taper will be used from the joints to the main span to ease the transition, as the approach span is 5 inches lower than the main span.

According to Earthquake Protection Systems president Victor Zayas, in a statement to Roads & Bridges magazine, the most critical part of the bearing is the bottom lining, which is a self-sacrificing, solid-lubricant polymer composite that was developed based on earlier research done by NASA in the 1960s.

Click here to read more on the Dumbarton Bridge retrofit.

**  If you missed my post on the jury instruction on standard of care, be sure to check it out here.


Photo (c) Jill Clardy via CC.


Should You Guaranty Performance on a Green Project? (Law note)

guarantee sealBy now, I hope you know me well enough to know that I’d never, ever say you should make a guaranty of performance, period, let alone guaranty the green performance for a new building.  However, sometimes caution has to be thrown to the wind to get the job– at least in the case of a recent GSA design-build project in Seattle.

There, the design-build team agreed that the GSA could withhold 0.5% of the original contract amount, or $330,000, pending the achievement of energy goals.  As writer Suzanne H. Harness, J.D., AIA, noted recently

The GSA’s approach is diametrically opposed to the recommendations of the American Institute of Architects, which advises both architects and contractors not to guarantee or warrant the achievement of a sustainability goal.  The AIA’s 2011 Sustainability Guide explains the obvious:  contractors and architects can design and construct a building, but the owner operates it, and the owner’s actions are beyond the control of the design and construction team. If the owner operates the building differently from the assumptions used during design, performance goals will likely not be met, even if the building is perfectly constructed. [Emphasis added].

Ms. Harness also correctly noted that professional liability insurance would not cover such a guarantee of performance.  So beware to the design team who takes such a project on: they can be held contractually liable, but there will not be insurance to cushion the fall out from any lawsuit.

Just DON’T do it!



Understanding & Modifying Key Construction Contract Terms

As I mentioned, I  was one of three amigos who spoke on a Construction Contract webinar last week.  We had a good turn out and lots of very astute questions during the Q&A portion.  While you will miss all of my witty insightful helpful commentary, you can check out the slides for my portion, on understanding and modifying key terms, here:

Drafting Construction Contracts

My comrades’ presentations can be found by visiting Chris’s blog (for payment provision issues) and Craig’s blog (for damages and dispute resolution issues).  Happy viewing!

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