As everyone knows, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the construction industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schedules, productivity, safety processes, and seemingly everything else are being affected. In these difficult times, most contractors are making every effort to work together to solve the problems caused by COVID-19. But what happens when differences arise between project owners, contractors, and subcontractors as to the effect of COVID-19 on a project? One party may want to continue pushing the schedule, others may want to slow down, or, more likely, not be able to keep up with the original schedule because of some reason related to COVID-19. As between a prime contractor and a subcontractor, a mutual responsibility clause can provide some clarity or, unfortunately, depending on how the subcontract is written, confusion.
Almost all subcontracts have a clause which flows down the prime contractor’s obligations on a project to the subcontractor as applicable to the subcontractor’s work. Known as “flow-down” clauses, this clause works in one direction; obligations of the prime contractor “flow-down” to the Subcontractor. A mutual responsibility clause, in essence, works in both directions. The subcontractor is required to perform its obligations consistent with the prime contractor’s obligations to the owner and the subcontractor is granted the same rights against the prime contractor which the prime contractor has against the owner. Obligations flow down and rights flow up. The rights and obligations flowing through the prime contractor include, the obligation to perform the work in accordance with the plans and specifications, the obligation to meet the schedule constraints in the prime agreement, and the right to extensions of time and change orders to the extent the prime contractor obtains the same.