Three Recent Cases Strike Down Liquidated Damages Clauses In Settlement Agreements…A Trend Or An Aberration?

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While conventional wisdom is that liquidated damages provisions are routinely enforced, these recent cases demonstrate that the freedom of sophisticated parties to craft their settlement agreements will not always win the day.

November 1, 2021
Adam M. Tuckman - ConsensusDocs

Beginning more than one century ago, owners and contractors generally have adopted the convention of including liquidated damages in their contracts to fix potential liability for delay (and other losses) at the inception of the project. The proliferation of liquidated damages clauses in modern contracts can be attributed to economic and legal factors. From the owner’s standpoint, it may be exceedingly difficult to prove the actual cost impact of a delayed completion of the project. A properly calculated liquidated damages rate would save the owner the significant expense of quantifying its delay damages. On the contractor’s side, a reasonable amount of liquidated damages may be preferable to uncapped or unknown liability, allowing the contractor to more accurately price its bid and efficiently allocate risk.

Coinciding with, or perhaps a leading cause of, the industry’s embrace of liquidated damages provisions, was the shift in courts throughout the country from disfavoring such clauses to accepting them (within limits) as an appropriate exercise of contract rights. While some variation exists among the states, courts have generally recognized that liquidated damages clauses are a viable alternative to proof of actual loss so long as (i) actual losses were difficult to quantify, and (ii) the stipulated sum bears a reasonable relationship to the anticipated loss at the time of contracting. See, e.g., Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 356. Conversely, a clause that penalizes the breaching party rather than serving as an estimate of probable loss is likely to be found unenforceable.

Mr. Tuckman may be contacted at atuckman@watttieder.com



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