The emergence of COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges in the already complex world of negotiating construction contracts. In the pre-COVID-19 era, general contractors, construction managers and those negotiating on their behalf, needed to balance a variety of fairly well-established legal risks and exposures and commercial realities with the need to maintain a positive relationship with their counterparty. While many are rightfully concerned with addressing the impacts of COVID-19 to their on-going projects, those negotiating new contracts now are undoubtedly cognizant that they are negotiating in the midst of an unpredictable future that is tipping the historical negotiating balance. The following presents some crucial areas to focus on when negotiating and drafting your contracts in this new era.
Contract Terms Through the COVID-19 Lens
Contractors should examine proposed new contracts carefully to identify rights that afford COVID-19 protections and identify contractual obligations that create COVID-19 commercial risks.
Specific attention should be paid to those sections relating to force majeure/excusable delay, emergencies, changes (including changes in law), contingency, suspension and termination, site investigation as well as all representations and warranties. The paramount concern in examining these provisions is to ensure that they not only entitle the contractor to relief for those unknown events, emergencies and changes, but that they also contain sufficient entitlement for the contractor to obtain both time extensions and financial compensation for unknown impacts of a known event – the COVID-19 pandemic.