By George M. Nicholos, associate, Vandeventer Black LLP
What is the most dangerous item on a construction worksite? You might guess heavy machinery, cranes, or careless construction workers? But you would be wrong, because ironically the most dangerous item on the construction worksite is made entirely of paper. And that paper comes in the form of poorly prepared and understood construction documents. There is no doubt that an errant piece of heavy machinery can result in a terrible accident, but poorly prepared and interpreted construction documents can result in a catastrophic event during construction or may be latently buried within a structure, only to be later exposed by a natural event such as high winds, heavy rains, snow or a seismic event resulting in a catastrophic event.Poorly prepared and understood construction documents can lead to a loss of life or and more frequently, to costly damages to property. Through the course of a project thousands of questions will arise regarding unclear drawings, specifications, and shop drawing submittals. Poorly prepared and understood construction documents place additional burdens on an already strained construction process by demanding additional time for research and documentation. Did the designer really intend that the line representing a flashing membrane lap the adjacent material in the manner depicted? Should the builder simply proceed as indicated in the drawings or should the builder draw its own interpretation as to how the membrane has always been installed? Similarly, where there is an incomplete or missing detail, should a builder seek clarification from the designer or proceed with construction using its own interpretation? And where decisions in the field are made quickly between builders and designers does the resolved issue end there? Despite these seemingly simplistic examples, these and thousands of similar and familiar situations routinely occur and are repeated on construction worksites daily without proper documentation to answer questions. Why was a particular product used? Whose decision was it to construct it in that manner? Whether it is due to complacency, pressures from compressed project schedules, oversight, increasingly competitive fees reducing administrative resources, or the natural tendency to follow the path of least resistance; the lack of proper documentation can result with exposure to wildly unanticipated legal liabilities.Despite the hurried pace of construction, all parties to a construction project should be vigilant to properly and systematically comply with their own internal quality control protocols. Conflicting, ambiguous or missing information should always be questioned, resolved, and memorialized in project records, as also should any discussions or decisions made quickly in the field. All approvals, decisions, and actions should be clearly documented in project records as reasonably possible. Failure to maintain a complete project record addressing the how and why building components were pieced together may result with a party incurring substantial liability and cost for another’s error or complacency with poorly prepared and understood construction documents. With some luck and diligent attention to project documentation, hopefully liabilities associated with poorly prepared and understood construction documents will be limited to that of a paper cut.
These articles are meant to bring awareness to these topics and are not intended to be used as legal advice.
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