Claims on construction projects involve the major protagonists, owners, contractors and design professionals
and it is important to prepare for the uncertainty of construction project risks. While each project risk may have
uncertainty associated with it regarding the degree that a particular risk will manifest itself on a given project,
the identification of major project risk factors is a relatively advanced science. However, the essence of the ability
to reduce the frequency and severity of claims is the identification of these construction project risk factors and
dealing with them and/or providing for them in the construction or design contracts.

The major project risks that we are all too familiar with include the following:

  • Cost escalations
  • Time for completion and construction delays
  • Changes in project scope
  • Geotechnical and site-related problems
  • Weather and force major conditions
  • Negligence in both design and construction

Contracts provide a rare opportunity between contracting parties to foresee problems and to draft contractual
provisions to take care of those problems, or at least to diminish the effect of those problems on the project
when and if they occur.

This brings us to the importance of contracts. Contracts are the basis of most of our liability in today’s
construction industry. Contractual claims represent 90% of all claims that occur in the industry. Third party tort
claims make up the remainder. Since contracts are so important, it is clear that more time should be spent
discerning which contract (delivery system) is likely to provide the best option for the parties to a particular

The power of a contract for any legal purpose is enormous. Parties can limit their liability both in terms of time
and quantum, and the parties can foresee problems and provide contractual formulae to deal with those

This paper will deal with various contracting strategies, risk allocation and project delivery alternatives which can
make a significant difference in mitigating the effect of the risk factors that exist on every construction project.

Tailoring Your Contract to Your Project

It is important to tailor your contract to your project, rather than vice-versa. It is acceptable to use standard
forms, as long as one does not become a slave to standard form contracts. There is no single standard form
contract that can apply to every permutation and combination of situations that might arise on a construction
project. It is important to understand the particularities and requirements of a particular project and the
participants to that project so that you can tailor your contract to your project in a manner that will serve the
best purposes of all of the contracting parties. Problems with contracts are endemic to the construction industry
and as indicated above, represent the source of most of the claims that occur on a day-to-day basis.

This brings up the seven "I"s of contract that graphically illustrate most of the problems associated with
construction contracts. These include the following:

  • Inappropriate contracts
  • Incomplete contracts
  • Incomprehensible contracts
  • Incompatible contracts
  • Inequitable contracts
  • Incommunicado contracts
  • Incredible contracts

In order to assess the appropriate contractual agreement to employ on a particular construction project, it is first
necessary to undertake a complete risk assessment. The foreseeing of risk and project-related factors affecting
the contracting parties is key to developing a contractual arrangement that will work to the benefit of the project
and its participants. Before considering a particular project delivery alternative, the parties should undergo a
thorough assessment and evaluation process that should include the following:

  • Assessing and evaluating the particularities and needs of the various project participants;
  • Assessing and evaluating the individual peculiarities and sensitivities of each project;
  • Assessing and evaluating the role to be played by each of the project participants on the project and how
    they will interact with one another.

Deciding how best to allocate project risk amongst project participants is a critical exercise. In particular
contractual situations, a number of factors should be reviewed, including the ability of the parties to bear risk. So

Risk Should Be Born By the Party Best Able to Handle It

The major sources of disputes on construction projects including the following:

  • Incomplete scope definition.
  • Inappropriate contract type.
  • Poor communications.
  • Uncertainty and unrealistic expectations.
  • Compatibility of Interests

Compatibility of Interests

The nature of the beast of construction being what it is, and as an indication of why construction disputes will
likely be with us forever, no matter how sophisticated we become, one need only look at the volatile construction
process. When the parties' objectives and interests are not compatible, their interpretation of contract
documents, terms and conditions can diverge, leading to conflict.

The conflict-prone nature of construction projects is primarily based upon the incompatibility of the parties' initial
interests and objectives. Incompatible project objectives are responsible for frequent disagreements on how to
approach and complete a project. For example, on most construction projects, the owner wishes to obtain
maximum quality, functionality, aesthetics and capacity at minimum cost. On the other hand, the contractor seeks
to achieve financial goals that are advanced by expending the minimum resources required to meet a minimum
scope of work.

Each construction project is unique, and requires a detailed analysis, prior to entering into a particular project
delivery method. The parties on each project must assess specific project characteristics to develop a joint
creative and effective approach to dealing with and resolving conflicts before they lead to disputes.

The structure of a construction project in terms of which project delivery method is employed, and the manner in
which the parties relate to one another, can reduce or create conflict amongst multiple project participants. As an
example, reviewing the traditional relationships on a design/bid/build delivery system, illustrates a situation
where the design professional and the contractor have only a communication relationship with one another, but
their roles on the project are defined in their separate contracts with the owner. Accordingly, it is important to
ensure that both the design contract and the construction contract are compatible with one another,
notwithstanding the fact that they represent entirely different relationships with the owner.

Because the owner and the contractor are expecting the consultant to provide certain contract administration
functions during the course of the construction project, and as envisioned in the construction contract, it is
important that the consultant’s own contractual mandate with the client give him the power to perform those

Using Contracts to Achieve Dispute Prevention

Employing contracts to achieve dispute prevention requires us to become involved in various dispute prevention
techniques. These include the following:

Equitable risk sharing
Innovative project award and delivery systems, incentive programs, constructability analysis and cost and
schedule controls
The costs of implementing these techniques are often viewed by owners as additional costs. However, the
benefits that owners ultimately obtain far exceed the costs.

Key questions that arise on every project that should be addressed by the project participants include the

Is this the appropriate project delivery system?
With many project participants, how do you keep misunderstandings to a minimum?
How should project risks be allocated?
As a means of promoting the equitable distribution of construction project risks, the following contract ideas in
this and the following pages are being put forward. Some of these ideas may seem to be heresy to some,
depending upon whose ox is being gored. The writer does not suggest that these ideas represent a panacea for
the construction industry. They are only put forward for thought and quiet consideration.

Guiding Principles of Risk Allocation: 1, 2 & 3

The general guiding principles of risk allocation should be that:

Successful risk allocation is based on having fair project contracts that are understood by everyone
The different parties involved should seek a multi-beneficial distribution of risk

1.   Economic Price Adjustment

This allows for controlled price escalation during the life of a project. Fixed price contracts are the most prone to
claims. This is particularly the case for complex design projects that have a construction duration in excess of
three years.

In this context, contracts would set a limit on the price escalation to be carried by the contractor, leaving
anything above that amount to the owner. This way, if costs increase significantly during the life of the project,
the contract contains a formula and the conditions for compensating the contractor, potentially eliminating or
reducing the need for claims.

2.   Innovative project award and delivery mechanism

A new bidding method for earthwork and tunneling jobs is suggested. This involves a "Negotiated Cooperative
Process". This bidding/selection system divides the contract award into three steps as follows:

(a) Selection of contractors. The owner and the consultant qualify interested contractors.
(b) Joint decisions. Selected contractors meet with the owner and the consultant to jointly decide on the best
type of equipment to be employed on the project. This is important in pricing earthwork and tunneling jobs. In
addition, other possible issues critical to the execution of the project are also discussed, including geotechnical
reports that are reviewed and jointly interpreted.
(c) Awarding the contract. Each contractor presents a bid based upon the criteria agreed on in the previous
steps of the process. The owner then awards the contract.
The benefit to the three-step bidding system described above is that it provides a more balanced distribution of
project risk, since some of the equipment and other uncertainties are reduced. The joint decision aspect allows
for significant savings during submittal and start-up for all parties. It limits problems associated with equipment,
productivity and schedule sequence during construction.

3.   Procurement, Engineering and Construction Process

This approach is a response to the increasing role major suppliers of equipment and materials are playing in the
construction process. In this process, we utilize the expertise and knowledge of key suppliers in all phases of the
project life cycle by developing an advance procurement strategy, and by reaching a full commercial agreement
with suppliers of strategic procurement items and/or systems prior to the principal engineering activities.

That is, critical pieces of equipment and materials are negotiated and procured before the engineering takes
place, based upon conceptual designs and the owner’s detailed performance requirements. With the suppliers
on board, the engineering design process incorporates their input, special requirements and experience into the

The benefits from such a process include improved quality of detailed design; improved system and facility
performance; more equitable allocation of risk; improved use of supplier expertise; reduction or elimination of
redundant work; and reduced need for owners and contractors to maintain areas of expertise that are more cost
and time-effectively maintained and delivered by suppliers

Guiding Principles of Risk Allocation: 4

4.   Bridging the Design/Build Gap

The use of the design/build delivery system has grown significantly in recent years, both in private and public
sector projects. The design/build process is characterized by a single source of project responsibility by an entity
that is responsible for both the design and construction component of the project. There is also usually a single
point of communication between the owner and the design builder.

The design/build process reduces the potential for argument regarding the source of construction problems being
either design or construction, as a single entity is responsible for both. The design/build delivery system is
usually employed to procure design/build contractors with particular areas of expertise.

Some of the problems associated with design/build project delivery include the fact that the owner loses control
over the design and a "gap" is generated between the owner's objectives and the design process run by the
design/builder. In addition, the design portion of the design/build firm participation is often based on price, rather
than on superior design qualifications and expertise.

In the design/build process, there is less competition in the selection and award phases as the owner is often
required to compare "apples and oranges" in order to choose a contractor, since differing proposals often differ
in their interpretation of what the significant project design and/or performance parameters are. The process
often becomes a competition in under design.

In addition, the final design/build product is often a mixture of owner/contractor objectives and interpretations
that may fail to meet the original project criteria. Lastly, the owner is often left to choose from several completely
different proposals, none of which is 100% satisfactory.

In order to correct these problems indigenous to the design/build process, the use of an owner's consultant is
proposed to bridge the gap between the owner and the design process, without losing the advantages of the
design/build delivery system.

The benefits to be derived from having a bridging consultant, include the fact that the owner retains control of
the portions of the design that are usually of more importance to him, and usually includes the conceptual and
schematic design phases. Through his own consultant, the owner maintains direct communication with the
design process. The bridging consultant can be selected by the owner taking the consultant's qualifications into

The conceptual and schematic designs benefit as the goals and objectives of the owner will be properly
translated. In other words, the existence of a conceptual design which is more compatible with the owner's
objectives will result in proposals from design/build contractors that are easier to compare and select, taking
price, design, materials, technical solutions and future operating costs into consideration.

Guiding Principles of Risk Allocation: 5 & 6

5.   Incentive Programs

Performance incentive programs tend to strengthen the project team members' commitment to speed the project
towards completion. Incentive programs assist in aligning the contractor's motivation and performance with the
owner's objectives. In order to make such an incentive system work, the owner must devise attainable and
challenging goals for the construction team.

The owner must continually evaluate the performance of the contractor against a set of objective goals to
ascertain if the contractor has earned the incentive, and also whether the overall project goals will be achieved
based upon progress made up to that point.

In order to perform this monitoring or evaluation process, it will be necessary for the contractor and the project
consultant to initiate and institute appropriate construction scheduling and monitoring techniques that will make
it possible to assess the progress of the work daily, weekly, monthly, and overall. In order to do this, a full and
detailed CPM schedule will often be employed.

Incentives in construction contracts usually consist of performance bonuses based upon achievement of
milestone dates, as well as contractors sharing in proportion to any savings based upon stipulated cost goals
set out within the contract.

6.   Constructibility Analysis

Constructibility analysis is often referred to as "value engineering". This is a way of reducing disagreements and
disputes based upon contract ambiguities. This analysis is performed during the planning, design and
procurement phases, and can mitigate problems and claims during construction. Analysis is often performed by a
contractor's representative who liaises with the project consultant, or by an independent construction expert
consultant engaged by the owner to interact with the project consultant.
This process can identify errors, omissions and impractical design details that, if later uncovered by the contractor
or supplier, would result in additional costs and delays to the project.

Guiding Principles of Risk Allocation: 7, 8 & 9

7.   Cost and Schedule Controls

The control of costs and schedule remains one of the most difficult goals to accomplish on any construction
project. One technique is the requirement that contractors report (with their monthly invoices) any claims
regarding the performance of the work in connection with cost and schedule changes during that monthly period.

Every month, before payment is made by the owner, the consultant completes a report based upon the work
performed during that month. That report becomes the monthly progress certificate, and is given to the
contractor for review and approval. If the contractor does not report a claim that has become apparent during
that period, it looses its right to make that claim in the future. In every monthly report, the contractor must
report new claims as well as any outstanding ones from previous months. This forces the parties to acknowledge
the existence of any outstanding issues every pay period and requires them to address the matter promptly.

8.   As-Built Schedules

Owners may require the contractor to submit an as-built schedule every month before the Consultant issues his
Certificate for Payment as well as before releasing the final payment on the project. The as-built schedule will
become the basis for review of any after-completion claims.

By submitting a schedule that reflects the actual construction sequence and total duration, this will discourage
the submission, at a later date, of delay claims that were not previously shown.

The as-built schedule can be required by the owner to be submitted monthly during the course of the work since
the schedule itself is a summary of all of the construction activities and their duration throughout the project.

9.   Forward-Price Change Orders

Impact or indirect costs, such as home office overhead, field staffing or overtime work, represent change order
work beyond straight hard costs, such as labor, equipment and materials.

To reduce disputes, owners and contractors can agree in their contract on the guidelines and methods for
determining impact costs. A series of impact factors and formulae can be developed for issues like the timing of
changes, number of trades involved, effect on the schedule, effect on office and field staffing and the cumulative
nature of disruptions.

Subsequently, when change orders are priced and negotiated, owners and contractors will be in a position to
incorporate both hard costs and impact costs, and they will be in a position to more easily settle on a final
adjustment to the contract value.

Guiding Principles of Risk Allocation: 10, 11 & 12

10.   Impact Claim Deadlines on Change Order Cost Quotations

When contractors price change orders, they usually include "reservation of rights" language to allow themselves
the opportunity to make future claims for additional time or money to complete the project.

A disclaimer is often used by the contractor in the change order quotation to allow for further review in order to
assess the impact the change order will have on the construction schedule sequence of activities and the overall
project duration. This is reasonable since, in most cases, the contractor will not have had an opportunity to
complete a total assessment of the time and cost implications of the change order. A compromise may be to
allow the contractor a reasonable identified period of time after the change order is signed to analyze and
predict its cost and time impact on the overall project. The contractor then informs the owner about its
conclusions and the contractor’s claims are then crystallized and dealt with. The period for the contractor to
analyze, formulate and transmit its claims to the owner may vary with the type and magnitude of the project, but
it could range from one to six months.

If a contractor doesn’t inform the owner within the designated period of the cost and time impact of the change
order, the contractor then waives the right to any additional time or cost resulting from the change order. If the
monthly as-built schedule procedure described earlier is employed, this will assist the contractor to formulate its
impact claims arising from project change orders.

11.   Dispute Resolution Provisions

You can substantially mitigate the effect of disputes on projects by providing for provisions that describe how
disputes will be resolved. Contracts that fail to define the dispute resolution process, fail to provide alternatives
to litigation.

Some of the dispute resolution alternatives include negotiation, mediation and arbitration. In many cases,
mandatory mediation and arbitration provisions should be stipulated in contracts, depending upon the nature of
the contracts and whether they would likely be amenable to shorter and more efficient resolution through
alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques rather than resorting to costly and time consuming litigation.

In addition, in their dispute resolution contractual provisions, the parties have an opportunity at the outset of
the contractual relationship, and before matters have gone off the rails, to name future mediators and
arbitrators who would be involved in the ADR process should the need arise.

12.   Negotiation Training

Negotiation skills are critical to the speedy and efficient resolution of construction disputes. Not everyone is a
born negotiator. Firms in the construction industry should endeavor to put forward individuals to negotiate
contracts and claims who are diplomatic, show some degree of flexibility and also some facility for the English
language. It would also be helpful if negotiation skills were high on such individuals' resume.

Formal training in dispute prevention, resolution and communications and negotiations should be a key
ingredient in any successful ADR program, and should be a critical issue for any firm in the construction industry
seeking to avoid prolonged, expensive and reputation impugning disputes.


The suggestions are meant to be reviewed objectively by all participants to the construction process. They
should be considered an honest effort to reduce the level and volatility of disputes that are inherent in today's
construction industry.


  • Parties are free to agree payment arrangements – otherwise defaults apply:

* Number of progress payments eg milestone
* Interval between payments calendar monthly
* Amount of each payment
* Value of work carried out - contract price/rates
* Variations - agreed/authorised
* Defective work - deduct estimated cost to rectify
* Retentions or liquidated damages - per contract
* Due date for payment –  working days


For a payment claim to be valid it must:

* Be in writing
* Identify the construction contract to which the payment claim relates
* Identify the construction work to which the payment claim relates
* Identify the claim period to which the payment claim relates
* Indicate a claimed amount
* Indicate the due date for payment
* Indicate how claimed amount calculated
* State that claim is made under the Act

Otherwise a payment claim may not be enforceable