Court’s Tough Stance on Contract Terms Means Big Loss for Wisconsin Subcontractor
By Suzanne Sutherland
Following and understanding contract terms can have a major impact if a project goes south. A Wisconsin subcontractor learned this lesson the hard way after losing its claim against the general contractor for damages from unpaid change orders and scheduling problems. North American Mechanical, Inc. v. Walsh Constr. Co. General contractor Walsh hired North American Mechanical, Inc. (“NAMI”) to install HVAC systems for a hospital renovation and expansion.
The perfect storm of project delays, tough contract clauses, and inadequate record-keeping combined to defeat all but $8,000 of the subcontractor’s $2 million claim. Three key lessons from the court’s decision could both mitigate a subcontractor’s losses and improve likelihood of recovery.
NAMI’s first roadblock was its breach of the subcontract by failing to use the proper lien waiver forms. The court found that lien waivers with different release language and reservations of rights from the contractually required forms were entirely void. NAMI’s use of improper lien waiver language caused NAMI to forfeit this claim.
The second obstacle involved NAMI’s inability to prove change order costs. NAMI maintained that its required use of building information modeling (BIM) revealed numerous architectural problems with the plans. The court rejected NAMI’s argument that changes due to BIM-revealed conditions were beyond the scope of NAMI’s original bid. Because NAMI had insufficient documentation to back up its position that the additional costs incurred were valid change orders, the court denied the majority of this claim.
Finally, NAMI’s claim was thwarted by a no damage for delay clause in the subcontract. NAMI blamed Walsh’s mismanagement and poor scheduling for over $1.7 million in additional labor costs. The court enforced the no damage for delay clause and barred NAMI’s recovery for labor inefficiencies.
Three lessons can be learned from NAMI’s big loss. First, understand the contract requirements and follow them. Second, maintain good records for changes and know what the contract requires for payment of changed work. Third, courts can and do enforce no damage for delay clauses. Be aware of the potential risks that this clause presents and that a court may deny delay-related damages.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like “Crossing a Finish Line Can Be Tough”.