As the number of COVID-19 cases increases exponentially in the United States, the impact on the construction industry will inevitably continue to rise. Although projects in many states continue to progress at this time, some jurisdictions have taken drastic measures. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently suspended all construction projects until further notice in response to COVID-19. Similarly, all construction projects in Boston were ordered to stop for at least 14 days. In addition to shutdowns that may possibly be imposed by potential government action in response to the virus, ancillary issues could adversely impact parties to a construction project and the labor, goods, services, and materials used on projects. Such issues may include disruptions to construction supply chains in the U.S. and abroad, employees becoming ill and under quarantine, a workforce adjusting to changes resulting from school closings and other evolving societal changes flowing from COVID-19, and a rapidly changing and uncertain economic situation. While the current situation is essentially unprecedented, there are some actions parties in the construction industry can take to help prepare for, and address, potential impacts to their business and ongoing projects. Review Construction Contracts: Whether it is a standard form construction contract...
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds that General Contractor was Immune from Suit by Employee of Subcontractor Under Workers’ Compensation “Statutory Employer” Doctrine
In a case which has attracted a great deal of attention from construction and insurance industry groups, and prodded the filing of numerous amici curiae briefs, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Patton v. Worthington Associates, overturned a $1.5 million jury verdict and ruled in favor of the defendant general contractor based on the “statutory employer” immunity doctrine under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”).
In recent months the New Jersey Appellate Division issued two opinions clarifying aspects of the New Jersey Local Public Contracts Law, which generally mandates that contracts above a specified amount be awarded by municipalities to the lowest responsible bidder after public advertising for bids and bidding, N.J.S.A. § 40A:11-4, and also sets forth specific, non-waiveable bid requirements, the absence of which will result in a per se disqualification of the bid. N.J.S.A. § 40A:11-23.2.
New Jersey’s Prompt Payment Act (“PPA”) can be a valuable tool available to contractors, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and product suppliers that are owed money on New Jersey construction projects, as aggrieved parties can recover interest on unpaid amounts at prime plus one (1%) percent in the event payment is not made within the time period provided by the PPA and attorneys’ fees. N.J.S.A. § 2A:30A-2. In TBI Unlimited, LLC v. Clearcut Lawn Decisions, LLC, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey considered the scope of the PPA, which is only the subject of a handful of written opinions.
The selection of an expert witness can be critical to the outcome of a construction dispute. A well-qualified and strong expert witness can be essential to a party prevailing on its claim or defense. Conversely, as the recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision in Wellinghorst v. Arnott, highlights, retaining the wrong expert can have significant negative consequences and potentially result in the dismissal of a claim.
Performance of Corrective Work Does Not Extend the Deadline to File Mechanics’ Lien Claims in Pennsylvania
Mechanics’ liens are powerful remedies for contractors involved in payment disputes with owners of construction projects in Pennsylvania, but the six month deadline under the Mechanics’ Lien Law is strictly construed and contractors who delay filing them may lose their rights. In Neelu Enterprises, Inc. v. Agarwal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court considered the deadline for a contractor to file lien claims “within six months after the completion of his work” set forth in Section 502 of the Pennsylvania’s Mechanics’ Lien Law. Specifically, the two issues in the case were whether the deadline begins to run after a contractor is terminated and whether the deadline can be extended by the subsequent performance of corrective or remedial work.
On December 9, 2011, New York became one of a growing number of states to pass legislation to allow design-build delivery for certain infrastructure projects. Given the current trend in repairing and replacing aging infrastructure through public private partnerships (“P3”), which traditionally use the design-build model, the passage of the design-build legislation may be a precursor to formal legislation allowing P3’s in New York.
Contracting Around the Discovery Rule: The Oregon Court of Appeals Enforces a Clause in a Construction Contract That Defined the Date of Accrual
Parties to construction contracts often include provisions that set forth time frames to file actions arising out of the contract that are different than the applicable statute of limitations. In the absence of any statutory prohibition, contract provisions limiting the time to file an action to less than the applicable statute of limitations are generally enforceable provided the time frame is reasonable. Although perhaps less common, some construction contracts include provisions that attempt to define when the applicable limitations period begins to run (i.e. when causes of action arising out of the contract accrue).
A Contractor’s Repair Estimate Provides Evidence of an Ascertainable Loss Under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) allows parties to recover damages if they have suffered an ascertainable loss. See N.J.S.A. 56:8-19. In the recent decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division, Pope v. Craftsman Builders, Inc., the court considered the type of evidence that can provide proof of an ascertainable loss in the context of a CFA claim involving a construction project.
Not All Wrongs are the Same: The Florida Supreme Court Holds That a Contractor That Knowingly Hires an Unlicensed Subcontractor Can Recover for Breach of Contract Against That Subcontractor
Like other states, Florida regulates parties in the construction industry and requires that contractors performing certain work be properly licensed. See Flor. Stat. Ch. 489. If an unlicensed contractor enters into a construction contract it cannot enforce that contract. See Flor. Stat. Ch. 489.128. In the recent decision in Earth Trades, Inc. v. T&G Corp., the Florida Supreme Court considered the impact of this law in a contract dispute between an unlicensed subcontractor and a general contractor, where the subcontractor claimed that the general contractor knew that it was unlicensed.