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Austin Construction News • FEB 2020

Put it in Writing: Managing Risk with Construction Contracts

OSHA’s On-line Reporting Requirement

Nicholl Wade, Construction Attorney Allensworth & Porter Austin, TX

Joann Natarajan Compliance Assistance Specialist OSHA Austin, TX

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hen beginning a new project or trying to close a deal, it can be tempting to rely on another party’s contract or use a form contract from a prior project. It can also be tempting to avoid negotiating terms of a contract in an effort to move the project forward. Unfortunately, if something goes wrong, most parties will be quick to point fingers, and the clarity of the contracts’ terms will suddenly skyrocket into critical importance. Thus, it is worthwhile to spend the time, and sometimes the money, to closely review and carefully negotiate the terms of the contract before signing, rather than litigating over those terms once a dispute arises. Even if each term is not negotiated to all parties’ satisfaction, a searching review of the contract before signing it can provide clarity on where their respective risks lie. What follows are some key considerations to help you mitigate risk in construction contracts. While not an exhaustive list, it’s a good place to start when thinking about your next contract. Use a Written Contract that is Executed by Both Parties Parties can sometimes rely on oral agreements, letter proposals, or quotes to set forth the terms of an agreement, especially if there is a tight deadline to begin construction or the agreement is with a returning client. The biggest danger in relying on an oral contract is that if a dispute arises, and the parties disagree over the terms of the agreement, the prospect of litigation escalates dramatically. In this type of scenario, the outcome will depend entirely on oral testimony. This creates a significant risk for each party because their claims will rest solely upon the credibility of their witnesses, who may not even be employees by the time trial comes around. Therefore, regardless of the relationship between the parties, an agreement should always be in writing. Although written proposals and quotes will serve parties better than an oral agreement, relying on these agreements can still create a substantial risk if the proposal or quote does not address essential terms. Key terms may include a detailed description of the scope of work, when payment is due, handling of reimbursable expenses, insurance requirements, dates for substantial and final completion, notices for default/opportunities to cure default, changes in the scope of work or price, termination procedures, and the forum and process for dispute resolution. This list is not exhaustive, but it does illustrate some of the detail necessary to protect a party’s interests and define the parties’ responsibilities for the project—something that’s difficult to accomplish in a one-page proposal or quote. On a final note, because an agreement is much more easily enforced against a signatory to a contract, all parties should sign the agreement. Use Detailed Consequential Damage Waivers Consequential damage waivers have become more prevalent in the construction industry and work to define and limit the parties’ exposure for damages in the event of a breach. Because there is some debate over the definition of consequential damages, parties should define these damages as much as possible within the contract. From an owner’s perspective, these costs may include loss of use, business interruption, or lost profits. For a contractor or subcontractor, consequential damages might include delay-related costs, such as loss of use of equipment, acceleration, or loss of productivity. A specific definition within a consequential damage waiver may help in avoiding confusion for the parties because they will have an idea of the level of exposure in the event of a breach.

Supply a Framework for Termination Termination is a drastic step and should be used, if at all, only after exhausting all reasonable attempts to find another solution. Even though an owner has the common-law right to terminate a contract in the event of a contractor’s material breach, the parties will be wellserved by including specific termination procedures—very much including notice and cure protocols, if any—in the contract. A contract should also distinguish between terminations “for cause” and “for convenience.” Terminations for cause can usually only occur if a party cannot fulfill its contractual duties. On the other hand, termination for convenience allows for termination in the absence of a breach. Additionally, a contract can include a provision that converts a wrongful termination for cause into a termination for convenience. These provisions are generally enforceable and give some latitude in deciding to proceed with termination on a “for cause” basis. Evaluate the Amount of Liquidated Damages Liquidated damages provisions frequently appear in construction contracts. A liquidated damages provision in a contract will quantify the amount of damages a contractor will owe if it breaches a contractual obligation, such as a delay in reaching final completion. From an owner’s perspective, liquidated damages may provide an incentive for a contractor to complete a project on time. On the contractor’s side, liquidated damages may serve to limit liability. Parties should, however, consider whether the liquidated damages are appropriate for the project at hand. To protect themselves against under-compensation in the event of a delay, project owners should evaluate whether the liquidated damage amount is adequate to cover potential delay losses. Similarly, contractors should also evaluate the amount of proposed liquidated damages to guard against potential over payment. And if you want it to be enforceable, do not call it a “penalty.” Summary A critical part of any construction project is the contract drafting and thorough understanding of the key terms of the contract. There may be no single “right” clause for every construction contract, but every project deserves its own agreement—and understanding the major issues and resulting responsibilities will help the parties tailor contract clauses and improve clarity. Thoughtful contract drafting is one of the most powerful vehicles available to allocate responsibilities and risks, so treat them accordingly. Nicholl Wade is a construction attorney at Allensworth & Porter where she helps clients across the construction industry solve problems and put disputes to rest. To reach Nicholl, please contact nbw@aaplaw.com or visit aaplaw.com.

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mployers with more than 20 employees that are required to maintain the OSHA 300 occupational injury illness log are required to go to https://www.osha.gov/ injuryreporting/ and report the totals from the OSHA 300A summary between January 2 and March 2 for the prior calendar year. For calendar year 2019 and beyond, OSHA is collecting employer identification numbers in the submissions. Many employers with more than 10 employees are required to keep a record of serious work-related injuries and illnesses. (Certain low-risk industries are exempted.) Minor injuries requiring first aid only do not need to be recorded. Though employers in certain industries are required to maintain the OSHA 300, only those employers that are required to keep the OSHA 300 and have more than 20 employees at an establishment covered by the rule are required to submit data. Employers with multiple business locations doing different business activities are required to report those locations with a North American Industrial Classification Code that is required to maintain the OSHA 300 and has at least 20 employees. Each employee must be associated with a physical establishment location, so workers that do not report to a facility daily, must still be associated with an employer location for recordkeeping purposes. OSHA regards OSHA 300A data submitted by employers into the injury tracking application on the OSHA website as confidential commercial information and will not release it to the public. How does OSHA define a recordable injury or illness tha is required to be recorded on the OSHA 300 log? • Any work-related fatality • Any work-related injury or illness s

that results in loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work, or transfer to another job • Any work-related injury or illness requiring medical treatment beyond first aid • Any work-related diagnosed case of cancer, chronic irreversible diseases, fractured or cracked bones or teeth, and punctured eardrums • There are also special recording criteria for work-related cases involving: needlesticks and sharps injuries;  medical removal;  hearing loss; and tuberculosis. The OSHA 300 log, 301, and 300A records must be maintained at the worksite for at least five years. Each February through April, employers must post the OSHA 300A summary of the injuries and illnesses recorded the previous year. Also, if requested, copies of the records must be provided to current and former employees, or their representatives. OSHA has a recordkeeping advisor that can be used to determine if a workplace incident must be recorded which can be accessed at: https://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/OSHARecordkeeping.htm natarajan.joann@dol.gov 512-374-0271 x232

Submitted to Construction News

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Phil Wooten, CPA has been named partner at Ridout Barrett. Wooten has been part of the Ridout family for two years bringing 15 years prior experience to the team. He is a LSU graduate and a licensed CPA in both Louisiana and Texas and heads up Ridout Barrett’s Austin office. -cmw

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Austin Construction News February 2020  

Monthly publication covering the construction, design and engineering industries in the Austin, Texas metropolitan area.

Austin Construction News February 2020  

Monthly publication covering the construction, design and engineering industries in the Austin, Texas metropolitan area.