No provision in a standard construction contract has been more debated than the requirement for the general contractor to pay its subcontractors after its receipt of payment from the owner. In situations where the owner does not pay the general contractor, the general contractor typically argues that it has no obligation to pay the subcontractor even if the reason for the owner’s nonpayment had nothing to do with the subcontractor. Conversely, the subcontractor argues that – when the reason for the owner’s nonpayment is not the subcontractor’s fault – the general contractor must pay the monies the subcontractor is due. Generally, the courts have said that contract language which states that the subcontractor shall not be paid until after the general contractor’s receipt of payment from the owner merely sets forth the time for payment and does not transfer the risk of the owner’s insolvency from the general contractor to the subcontractor. “Normally and legally, the insolvency of the owner will not defeat the claim of the subcontractor against the general contractor.” Sil/Carr Corp. v. Bartlett, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1665 (Conn. Super. Ct. June 26, 2012). It is, however, possible for the contractor to transfer the risk of the owner’s nonpayment to the subcontractor.
The general rule is that a party does not have to disclose communications with its attorney seeking legal advice. A recent Superior Court decision, Noble v. the City of Norwalk, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2017, however, has found an exception to the attorney client privilege that contractors need to be aware about.
During a trial, witnesses are not allowed to give their opinion unless they are qualified as an “expert.” Under the legal definition, an “expert” is anyone that has knowledge through education, training or experience that would be helpful to the jury given the subject matter of the lawsuit. Based upon the foregoing definition, almost anyone can qualify as an expert if the right case came along. For example, my 13-year-old daughter has been taking ballet lessons since she was 3. If ballet ever became relevant to a key issue in a lawsuit, my daughter would qualify as an expert on that subject.
In construction litigation, there are always questions that are not clearly fact or opinion. For example, the amount of time that the forms have to remain in place after a concrete pour is a subject upon which there is disagreement and often depends upon the structure that was poured and the conditions under which the concrete was placed.
According to the Home Improvement Act (the “Act”), a home improvement contractor has no legal right to payment if his contract is not entered into by a registered salesman or contractor and does not contain:
- the signatures of both the homeowner and contractor;
- notice of the homeowner’s cancellation rights; and
- a start date and a completion date.
Even if the homeowner testifies, under oath, that he requested the work, that the work was performed in a workmanlike manner, and he didn’t pay the amount he had agreed to pay, the contractor will still lose the lawsuit if the contract does not comply with the Act. Like most laws, however, there are exceptions to this rule.
A contractor may be able to get paid if a court finds that the homeowner was acting in “bad faith.” The Connecticut Appellate Court recently issued a decision that explains the limits of that exception.
In Lucien v. McCormick Construction, LLC, 122 Conn.App. 295 (Conn.App. 2010), the Connecticut Appellate Court refused to invoke the bad faith exception. The facts were that the homeowner:
- was represented by counsel;
One of the most litigated construction law issues is whether a contractor is entitled to payment for additional work performed without a fully executed written change order. Most construction contracts state that the contractor is not entitled to payment for any additional work, unless the additional work is performed pursuant to a written change order that has been sign by the owner, contractor and the architect. The problem is that — because time is money — waiting for a signed change order is often costly so most contractors move forward with additional work based upon verbal agreements with the intention of executing a written change order at a later date.
Most of the time, no problems arise from having performed additional work without first having a written change order. The parties abide by their verbal commitments, which are then incorporated into the written change order required by the contract. Once in a while, however, an owner will refuse to issue payment for work that was performed without a written change order despite an oral agreement being reached during the project. In these situations, some courts have enforced the contract provision requiring written change orders and have denied the contractor the right to recover payment for his work.