Approaches in the Absence of a Differing Site Conditions Clause

Construction site

Be as detailed and specific in documenting events and costs related to unforeseen conditions, even if contractual remedies are lacking.

April 10, 2019
Parker A. Lewton - Smith Currie

A contractor who has encountered unforeseen conditions will typically rely on the contract’s differing site conditions clause as a means to recovery. Most construction contracts address those issues directly. In ConsensusDocs Standard Agreement and General Conditions between Owner and Constructor, the starting point is § 3.16.2. But what if the contract does not contain a differing site conditions clause? Or, what if the contract does contain such a clause, but the contractor failed to provide adequate notice or satisfy other conditions or requirements of the contract? When reliance on a differing site conditions clause is impractical, a contractor still may seek recovery in certain instances under one or more of the following legal theories: misrepresentation; fraud; duty to disclose; breach of implied warranty; and mutual mistake.

Misrepresentation

Misrepresentation occurs when an owner “misleads a contractor by a negligently untrue representation of fact[.]” John Massman Contracting Co. v. United States, 23 Cl. Ct. 24, 31 (1991) (citing Morrison–Knudsen Co. v. United States, 170 Ct. Cl. 712, 718–19, 345 F.2d 535, 539 (1965)). A contractor may be able to recover extra costs incurred, under a theory of misrepresentation, if it can show that (1) the owner made an erroneous representation, (2) the erroneous representation went to a material fact, (3) the contractor honestly and reasonably relied on that representation, and (4) the contractor’s reliance on the erroneous representation was to the contractor’s detriment. See T. Brown Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 132 F.3d 724, 728–29 (Fed. Cir. 1997). These four requirements can be satisfied, for example, through the use of deposition testimony detailing the owner’s representations and the contractor’s reliance thereon. See, e.g., C & H Commercial Contractors, Inc. v. United States, 35 Fed. Cl. 246, 256–57 (1996).

Mr. Parker may be contacted at palewton@smithcurrie.com



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