Construction projects can be inherently risky – often there are multiple parties (owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors, government officials, sureties, insurers, and many others), unforeseen site conditions, tangled supply chains, acts of God, inadequate funding, site safety matters, and a whole host of other issues that can make even a relatively straight-forward job complex. Parties necessarily want to minimize their individual risk to the greatest extent possible on construction projects. And to do so, they may seek to push as much risk as possible onto the other side through one-sided terms in their construction contract.
But is an entirely one-sided contract the best way to mitigate risk? In many instances, the answer is no. Every contract is different – and many considerations should be taken into account when drafting and negotiating contracts – but entirely one-sided can often have unintended consequences and create risks that otherwise might not exist in a contract that allocates and balances risk more equally across the parties.
This article reviews several considerations (although it is not an exhaustive list) for avoiding one-sided contracts, including some of the benefits created through the use of equitable contract clauses. And for context, some examples of one-sided contract clauses include no relief for other contractor/owner-caused delays; no relief for force majeure events; no relief for unforeseen site conditions; and broad form indemnification clauses (i.e. one party assumes the obligation to pay for another party’s liability even if the other party is solely at fault). Again, this is a non-exhaustive list, and many other standard contract provisions can be altered to become one-sided. But the general premise of a “one-sided contract clause” is that it shifts all risk, obligation, and liability to one party. And this article examines why that might not be the best idea.