By Ryan D. DeMotte, K&L Gates, Pittsburgh
Mother Nature can often be an unwelcome intruder on a construction project. Heavy rains, snow, ice, wind, extreme cold, extreme heat; there are any number of weather events that can delay a project. While parties to a construction contract cannot control the weather, they can and should anticipate the possibility of adverse weather and address it in their contracts. Prudent contract provisions addressing bad weather events can help owners and contractors minimize the disputes that can develop when rain, snow, ice, and other weather events delay the project.
A common approach is to give contractors additional time but not costs for weather delays. Many commonly-used contract forms provide for weather-based time extensions if the weather event was “abnormal, “unforeseeable,” or “not reasonably anticipated.” Thus, in order to evaluate a request for a time extension based on adverse weather, the parties must first establish the appropriate weather baseline against which to measure the weather event at issue. Was the rainfall unusually heavy during a particular month? Was the temperature colder than previous years? If the contract itself does not define the baseline weather measurement, this can often be a point of dispute between parties. Some parties may try to minimize these disputes by providing detailed provisions for baseline weather measurements in the contract in the form of 10-year averages or other objective measures. Whether or not these types of provisions are useful depends on the project and its sensitivity to weather variations.
The parties must also determine how the weather caused the delay. Did cold temperatures delay paving work? Did heavy winds or sandstorms prevent the delivery and installation of sensitive equipment? In trying to answer these types of questions, the parties may dispute whether the delays were the result of the abnormal weather or the result of other causes.
Finally, owners and contractors need to consider why certain work was being performed during the adverse weather. For example, if, through a contractor’s own early delays it is still working outdoors at a time when it initially planned to be completing the interior of a building, an owner may be able to argue that the contractor is not entitled to an extension for any weather-related delays to its outdoor work. Conversely, if a contractor’s work is delayed by the owner’s delays, it may have a strong argument for any delays it incurs as it tries to complete the work in less-than-optimal weather conditions. A contractor may also be able to claim costs if it is pushed by owner delays into bad weather.
Given the inherent uncertainty of the weather, some parties decide to build into the contract and project schedule a certain number of extra days to absorb any weather delays.
As the above issues demonstrate, owners and contractors should give careful thought to the various types of weather risks their project may face when negotiating a construction contract and creating the project schedule.