Construction Disputes: Arbitration or Litigation?

This is Part 1 in a 20-part series of articles dealing with issues of arbitration in the construction industry.

The question of whether to arbitrate or litigate disputes comes up fairly frequently in the construction industry. From my humble perspective, with respect to construction disputes, there are very few circumstances where I would choose litigation over arbitration. Why?

Choice of Decision Maker
With arbitration, in general, you pick the decision maker(s) as opposed to being assigned a judge through a blind draw in the court system. That level of arbitrator selection may range from picking from a list under the American Arbitration Association Rules to hand picking a blue-ribbon panel of arbitrators or even a single arbitrator through private arbitration. If you are assigned a judge through the courts, you may end up with a judge who does criminal proceedings in the morning, divorce proceedings before lunch, and then handles your complex construction law dispute in the afternoon, in 15-minute increments, along with multiple other disputes in what looks to an outsider like a giant cattle call. Unless your contract provides otherwise, you may also be in the unlucky position to try your complex construction disputes to a jury.

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Engineer Loses Claim for Coverage as an Additional Insured

Being an additional insured on someone else’s insurance policy does not guaranty protection. Such was the lesson learned by an engineering firm in Orchard Hiltz & McCliment Inc. v Phoenix Ins. Co. and Federated Mutual Ins. Co., (U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Jan. 2017).

In Orchard Hiltz, the Village of Dexter hired the design firm, Orchard Hiltz & McCliment (OHM), to oversee upgrades to Dexter’s wastewater treatment plan. While contractors were removing a lid on a digester tank, sparks from a torch ignited methane gas causing an explosion. One worker was killed and another was injured. The injured worker and the family of the deceased worker sued OHM in state court, claiming that OHM breached the standard of care by failing to ensure that the contractors followed the plans and specifications and by failing to ensure that the contractors implemented safety measures. OHM’s professional liability insurance carrier, XL Specialty Ins., provided a defense to OHM in that state court case.

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Construction Contract Clauses, Part 6 – Waiver of Claims for Insured Losses

Many insurance sections of construction contracts contain language whereby the parties involved in the construction project waive all claims against all other parties involved in the project for insurable losses such as property damage and personal injuries.

Owner and Contractor waive all rights against each other and their respective officers, directors, members, partners, employees, agents, consultants and subcontractors of each and any of them for all losses and damages caused by, arising out of or resulting from any of the perils or causes of loss covered by such policies and any other property insurance applicable to the Work; and, in addition, waive all such rights against Subcontractors and Engineer, and all other individuals or entities identified in the Supplementary Conditions as loss payees (and the officers, directors, members, partners, employees, agents, consultants, and subcontractors of each and any of them) under such policies for losses and damages so caused.

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Construction Contract Clauses, Part 5 – Conversion Clauses

A conversion clause arises in the context of contract termination. There are generally two types of termination; termination for cause and for convenience. Each type of termination differs with respect to the basis for termination, as well as the limitations on payment rights the terminated party retains post-termination. A conversion clause operates to convert a wrongful termination into a termination for convenience. The following is an example of a conversion clause.

If it is determined, by litigation, arbitration or otherwise, that termination for default was unjustified for any reason, the termination shall be deemed a termination of convenience and Subcontractor’s remedies shall be limited to those provided for as a termination of convenience.

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