Suspension occurs on a construction project when an owner instructs a contractor to temporarily stop work on all or a portion of the project. Termination occurs when an owner instructs a contractor to permanently stop the performance of work and leave the site. Construction contracts typically specify each party’s rights, obligations, and remedies for suspension and termination. Therefore, it is advisable for all parties to thoroughly review, understand, and follow the contract provisions relative to suspension and termination. Suspension and termination on construction projects often result in claims and disputes; therefore, the decision to proceed with either option should not be taken lightly.
Common Issues Encountered Relative to Suspension and Termination Claims
Contracts/projects may be suspended for a number of reasons. Contractors may submit suspension-related claims if the duration of the suspension is long enough to delay the project or impact progress. Therefore, suspension-related claims often require a schedule delay analysis to evaluate the impact to the project’s critical path. Other contractor claims may include, but are not limited to, the following issues:
- Standby or idle costs
- Demobilization/remobilization costs
- Other actual costs incurred due to the suspension
On longer suspensions, there may be a provision for compensation to the contractor for demobilizing from the site and later remobilizing to avoid the project owner having to continuously pay for labor and equipment which is not being used. In addition, if the owner’s actions do not allow the work to proceed but the suspension clause has not been invoked, the contractor may claim for constructive suspension. A suspension can also be implemented if there is a dispute between the contractor and the owner, and a termination is being considered. Additionally, some contracts contain provisions that terminate the contract if the suspension lasts longer than the specified duration.
There are two general types of termination typically addressed in construction contracts: termination for convenience and termination for cause which is sometimes referred to as termination for default.
In a termination for convenience, the owner may terminate the contract for whatever reason it wishes, such as economic/business reasons, or as the most expeditious way of eliminating a non-performing contractor with minimum risk of a legal dispute. Contractor’s remedies for termination for convenience vary from contract to contract, but may include:
- The reasonable cost of work performed prior to termination, including profit
- Anticipated profits on uncompleted work
- Justifiable and reasonable termination costs including project wind-down costs
- Other costs as may be mutually agreed
Termination for cause may occur when the owner believes the contractor has not performed according to its contractual obligations and thus has materially breached the agreement. Some of the more commonly cited reasons for terminating a contract for cause include:
- Failure to pay labor, subcontractors, vendors, or material suppliers
- Failure to meet the project schedule or diligently perform the work
- Defective or deficient performance
- Failure to follow applicable laws or regulations
- Failure to consistently follow safety requirements
It is important to read and follow the contract, as some construction contracts provide for excusable delays, such as force majeure. Thus, decisions to terminate for cause must also consider events which are excusable under the contract and prevent the contractor from performing as required.
Termination-for-cause contract clauses vary from contract to contract, but some may require the owner to provide proper notice to the contractor of its alleged breach or failure to perform and provide a reasonable period for the contractor to cure, or start to cure, the alleged breach.
Suspension and termination actions on complex construction projects are typically complicated and expensive to resolve and often result in litigation or other forms of dispute resolution. Owners and contractors are advised to maintain detailed records and documents, such as costs reports, progress reports, invoices, schedules, and other contemporaneous project documents, as this will facilitate accurate and persuasive construction claims preparation.