When Is a Project Delay Material and Actionable?

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Who is liable for delays and how do contracting parties lessen the consequences from such unexpected and uncontrollable delays?

January 11, 2022
Rick Erickson - Snell & Wilmer Real Estate Litigation Blog

Welcome to 2022! This year, the construction industry will undoubtedly reflect on the last two years as unprecedented times plagued by construction project delays. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to suspension of work and closure of construction projects worldwide in 2020. The end of 2021 brought additional delays caused by an inexplicable clog in the supply chain of construction materials. The combined impact of these events on project milestones and completion deadlines led our clients to ask, with unusual and particular urgency, who is liable for such delays and how do contracting parties lessen the consequences from such unexpected and uncontrollable delays.

Granted that project delays are nothing new or unusual. They were common enough before inflation caused shipping complications and pandemic decimated the construction labor force. All delays, whatever the source, variably cause loss to all players on a construction project. But not all delays matter when it comes to claims and remedies available to the contracting parties in dispute resolution, where the determinative focus is on material delays impacting the entire project and on delays the claimant can credibly prove.

Most, if not all, jurisdictions interpret actionable delays from the contract documents for the project. The contract is definitely where you should start before pursuing any delay remedies. Delay remedies may be a time extension only, or a time extension plus your additional general conditions. Some delay remedies may be barred by the contract’s express terms and may be enforced adversely by the courts when such contract terms are indisputable. See Quinn Constr. v. Skanska USA Bldg., Inc., 730 F. Supp. 2d 401, 411 (D.C. Pa. 2010) (enforcing the subcontractor’s contractual waiver of claims for delay and disruption damages). On the other hand, delay damages that are expressly allowed by the contract—like overtime necessitated by the delays—are usually actionable and recoverable. Id. However, not only the contract terms, but applicable law, may affect the outcome.

Mr. Erickson may be contacted at rerickson@swlaw.com


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