Imagine your firm is the construction manager on a multi-million-dollar project. At the end of the project you are five million dollars out-of-pocket. You have a stack of claims for additional and extended work which led to the overrun, payment for which will easily cover the shortfall. However, the owner refuses to compensate you until you can satisfactorily answer their inquiry: “Where are the notices that are expressly required under the terms of the contract?” You had a good relationship with the owner’s field representative who was aware you were performing the work and understood that your company was compiling claims. The once cooperative owner, now suffering financial restraints of their own, is resolute in their refusal leaving you no choice but to expend substantial sums of money to litigate the claims, the success of which is far from assured.
What Contract Language Can Be A Trap For An Unwary Contractor?
While courts are generally hesitant to order a forfeiture and some courts disfavor condition precedents, a judge’s hands may be tied by particular contract language requiring the strict enforcement of notice requirements. Such provisions may include: (1) an explicit clause that there be precise compliance with notice requirements; (2) express consequences for noncompliance (e.g., if the required notice is not provided the claim will be waived, forfeited or abandoned); (3) a statement that the notice requirements are a condition precedent to recovery; (4) language such as “if,” “provided that,” “or else” or “on condition that” (e.g., the owner shall review the claim, “provided such claim” was received within the applicable notice period) or (5) prohibition of any waiver of the notice requirement. To the extent the notice provision includes such language, a contractor can be without recourse even when the owner has actual knowledge of the claims or cannot show prejudice by the lack of notice.