Guessing as to your Construction Damages is not the Best Approach

David Adelstein | Florida Construction Legal Updates | August 24, 2019

Arbitrarily guessing as to your construction damages is NOT the best approach.  Sure, experts can be costly.  No doubt about it.  Having an expert versus guessing as to your construction damages caused by another party’s breach of contract is a no brainer.  Engage an expert or, at a minimum, be in a position to competently testify as to your damages caused by another party’s breach of contract.  Otherwise, the guessing is not going to get you very far as a concrete subcontractor found out in Patrick Concrete Constructors, Inc. v. Layne Christensen Co., 2018 WL 6528485 (W.D. New York 2018) where the subcontractor could not competently support its delay-related damages or change orders and, equally important, could not support that the damages were proximately caused by the general contractor’s breach of the subcontract.

In this case, the concrete subcontractor entered into a subcontract to perform concrete work for a public project. The project was delayed and the general contractor was required to pay liquidated damages to the owner.  Not surprisingly, the subcontractor disputed liability for delays and sued the general contractor for all of its delay-related damages “in the form of labor and materials escalation, loss of productivity, procurement and impact costs, field and home office overhead, idle equipment, inability to take on other work, lost profits, and interest.”  Patrick Concrete Constructors, 2018 WL at *1.

The general contractor moved for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s delay-related damages – the subcontractor’s damages were nothing but guesses and the subcontractor could not prove the general contractor was the cause of the subcontractor’s damages.

The portion of the deposition transcript of the subcontractor’s president that may have also been its corporate representative as to damages is telling:

Q: After today’s exercise, do you believe you’re entitled to [$]681,740 under those items [regarding change orders]?

A: No.

Q: What amount [are] you entitled to?

A: I don’t know. I’d have to work it up.

Q: So as of right now, with my one chance to depose you, the person on damages, you can’t give me a figure that you’re actually entitled to?

A: No. We just ripped all these figures apart, so now I got to go back and refigure.

With regard to the amount of damages sought for “extra costs,” Bell [the President of subcontractor] testified as follows:

Q: Okay. Then you have – you total everything here, total of everything except for the Amount Due on Contract and Outstanding Change Order heading. So that [$]915[,000] basically added up everything under Extra Costs Not Submitted all the way down to Extra Equipment?

A: Yes.

Q: You’re asking for [$]915[,000] in this. Do you believe that’s actually what you’re entitled to today?

A: Well, like I said, we were – like you said, we have to do some adjustments here.

Q: Okay. Adjustments downward, correct, sir?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell me today what you think you’re actually entitled to?

A: No.

And, there was more.  The subcontractor could not locate its original estimate for the job, which is important for any loss of productivity or inefficiency claim – or any claim dealing with added labor and equipment usage. The subcontractor could not identify payroll records, time cards, vendor invoices, or anything to justify the damages it sought.  The subcontractor guessed as to labor hours without the back-up substantiating the labor hours and, equally important, could not establish it incurred the guesstimated labor hours caused by the general contractor.

In essence, Plaintiff [subcontractor] concedes that it cannot provide the Court with an “intelligent estimate without speculation or conjecture,” for either category of damages. Because Plaintiff has failed to make a factual showing sufficient to establish that the “extra costs” and “change orders” damages are capable of being proved with reasonable certainty, summary judgment dismissing these claims is appropriate.

***

Here, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant [general contractor] breached the Subcontract by delaying the Project, and that Defendant’s delay caused it to sustain damages. However, Plaintiff has admitted that Defendant was not responsible for all of the delay, and that Plaintiff and its reinforcing bar subcontractor contributed to the delay as well. Because, by Plaintiff’s own admission, it contributed to the damage-causing delays, it is required to allocate the amount of delay and resultant damages between, at a minimum, itself and Defendant.

Patrick Concrete Constructors, 2018 WL at *4.

Nevada Legislative Update: August 2019

Edward Garcia and Brittany Walker | Holland & Hart | August 30, 2019

CONSTRUCTION

AB 421 amends the laws governing residential construction defects. Key changes include extending the statute of repose from six to ten years and no longer requiring an expert to be present at an inspection concerning an alleged construction defect. Proponents of this legislation stated that it will protect Nevada’s homebuyers and encourage homebuilders to build to a higher standard. Opponents of this legislation stated that it will increase costs to new homebuyers and exacerbate the affordable housing issues facing Nevada.

AB 440 requires contractors who build new, single family residences to provide a disclosure of the purchaser’s rights and a one-year warranty from punch list completion that guarantees all home systems, workmanship, materials, plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems, appliances installed by the contractor, fixtures, equipment, and structural components.

SB 397 authorizes a licensed contractor to perform work in other license classifications which he or she does not have a license for when: (1) the value of the work is less than $1,000 and does not require a permit; and (2) the work is not of a type performed by a plumbing, electrical, refrigeration, or air-conditioning contractor. Essentially, this bill provides a handyman exception for contractors to perform work outside the scope of their license, which will help consumers by allowing a contractor to complete a small project which he or she does not typically perform.

Introducing Charlie Campbell as Advise & Consult’s Newest Expert Witness

Charlie Campbell has extensive experience in large loss / catastrophe situations. He has worked as Director of J.S. Held preparing estimates and bid specifications for more than 500 buildings in over 110 locations throughout Florida after Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew.

Charlie has also handled wildfires in California and flooding in the mid-west and in 1994 was heavily involved in the Northridge earthquake.

Charlie also has international experience working in Africa spending more than a month inspecting and writing estimates of building damaged along the front lines of civil war zone areas.

Prior to his time with J.S. Held, Charlie was a general contractor that specialized in restoration work. He also has worked as an adjuster and catastrophe manager for Allstate Insurance.

With Advise & Consult, Charlie will be based in Ohio and covering the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Indiana – along with large loss cases throughout the United States. As you can tell, he has many valuable and unique talents that he can bring your clients in your next construction defect and/or insurance dispute case.

Introducing John Link – Construction Expert Witness

Advise & Consult, Inc. | August 2, 2018

John Link Headshot 002
John Link

We are excited to announce the addition of John Link to our expert witness family here at Advise & Consult, Inc. He covers the Michigan area and has expertise in construction, remodeling and restoration services. John is also very experienced as a business consultant, public speaker and educator, and system and program development.

John has been a licensed builder, remodeler, and restoration contractor for over 30 years. His former businesses performed work thorough out the US with over 200 employees. His company was one of the only ISO certified restoration companies in the United States, which allowed direct contracts with large corporations. He also developed an industry 1st in the contents restoration services by standardizing the contents remediation process for several insurance providers and third party administrators. Throughout his career he has consulted with numerous companies to implement scalable growth and sales strategies. He has served as an expert witness for over 25 years. He has produced many CE classes, speaks publically, and provides industry training.  

Since the start of his business career, one of John’s main focuses has been how to effectively run and scale a business. With this focus, John has put together a comprehensive business administrative package. It provides start to finish protocol with over 300 critical documents covering the 4 main areas of business: personnel, project management, accounting, and file management. It also contains marketing sales strategies including educational classes that are industry specific. The package has been designed and implement to be highly adaptable to various businesses. This kind of organization and detailed business focus is what help his company become one of the only ISO Certified restoration companies in America.

If you are in Michigan and in need of his services – call 231.598.6166 or email johnlink@adviseandconsult.net

Privileged Communications With a Testifying Client/Expert

Shannon M. Warren | The Subrogation Strategist | April 30, 2019

In In re City of Dickinson, 568 S.W.3d 642 (Tex. 2019), the Supreme Court of Texas recently assessed whether a client’s emails with its counsel were subject to disclosure after the client was designated as a testifying expert witnessIn re City of Dickinson involved a coverage dispute between a policyholder and its insurer. The policyholder moved for summary judgment on the issue of causation, essentially alleging that its insurer did not pay all damages caused by Hurricane Ike. In responding to the motion, the insurer relied upon an affidavit by one of its employees, a claims examiner, that included both factual testimony and expert witness testimony.

The policyholder subsequently filed a motion to compel, seeking the production of emails between the claims examiner and the insurer’s counsel that were generated while the affidavit was being drafted. The emails contained numerous revisions of the affidavit. The insurer objected, asserting that the emails were protected by the attorney-client privilege and were generated in the course of the rendition of legal services.

The trial court granted the motion to compel, ordering production. Ultimately, after a series of appeals, the Supreme Court had to decide whether the documents in dispute were subject to discovery. In resolving this issue, the court examined the rules pertaining to expert disclosures. As noted by the court, the rules authorize the production of all documents provided to a testifying expert witness. Thus, the court was faced with determining if its rules required the disclosure of documents that are also subject to the attorney-client privilege.

The court, declining the opportunity to create a new exception, acknowledged that there are exceptions to the attorney-client privilege but found that none of the recognized exceptions applied. Instead, the court focused on the rules that govern the scope of discovery and the applicability of privileges.

In examining the rule governing expert disclosures, the court focused on the fact that the rule was permissive in nature, highlighting the word “may.” The court explained that the rule allows a party to request that an opposing party disclose materials, but does not require such disclosure. Additionally, the court noted that the rule governing expert disclosures does not address the disclosure of such materials that are otherwise protected by the attorney-client privilege. Thus, the court held that the general protections afforded by the privilege remained in effect.

The court made it clear that, in the context of expert disclosures, there is a significant distinction between information that is protected by the work product doctrine as opposed to information protected by the attorney-client privilege. The court noted that the rule governing the disclosure of expert materials explicitly states that work product is discoverable, but does not address materials subject to the attorney-client privilege. After examining numerous judicial decisions where courts upheld the attorney-client privilege in the context of expert disclosures, the In re City of Dickinson court, noting that the attorney-client privilege is “quintessentially imperative,” upheld the appellate court’s decision overruling the trial court’s order compelling disclosure.

The In re City of Dickinson case reminds us that, while not absolute, the attorney-client privilege provides powerful protections and can be asserted in situations when the materials sought are otherwise subject to disclosure. The case also exemplifies the importance of performing a critical analysis of the applicable rules to ensure compliance with the law, while maximizing a party’s position. Accordingly, it is a major benefit to involve counsel early in the case.