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 [$]681,740 under those items [regarding change orders]?
Q: What amount [are] you entitled to?
A: I don’t know. I’d have to work it up.
Q: So as of right now, with my one chance to depose you, the person on damages, you can’t give me a figure that you’re actually entitled to?
A: No. We just ripped all these figures apart, so now I got to go back and refigure.
With regard to the amount of damages sought for “extra costs,” Bell [the President of subcontractor] testified as follows:
Q: Okay. Then you have – you total everything here, total of everything except for the Amount Due on Contract and Outstanding Change Order heading. So that [$]915[,000] basically added up everything under Extra Costs Not Submitted all the way down to Extra Equipment?
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?
Q: Can you tell me today what you think you’re actually entitled to?
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.