Legal and Regulatory

Recommendations and Drafting Considerations for Construction Contingency Clauses Part III

Set clear expectations and avoid disputes when drafting a contingency clause by considering the contingency amount, what can be charged, the approval process and what happens to unused funds.
By Samantha Schacht
December 8, 2021
Legal and Regulatory

The best contracts provide the parties with a clear allocation of risks and responsibilities, and a process for handling inevitable project challenges. Contract negotiations can enable parties to have the difficult conversations allocating risks before the start of a project. An effective negotiation, in turn, aligns the parties’ expectations and helps avoid costly disputes born out of misunderstandings of the parties’ respective rights and responsibilities on the project.

This final installment of a three-part series on contingencies in construction contracts addresses factors that should be discussed and considered when drafting a contingency clause in a construction contract with the goal of helping to set clear expectations and avoid disputes. Part I The Best Laid Plans: Contingency in a Construction Contract explained what a construction contingency is and Part II The Best Laid Plans: Contingency in a Construction Contract discussed the two primary schools of thought on how a construction contingency fund should be used and managed.

The vast majority of owners or contractors use one of the industry standard construction forms. While these forms are a great starting point, most parties modify provisions in these forms to best suit their specific needs and risk profiles. The contingency clause is no exception. In fact, the construction contingency is one issue that most of the standard form agreements do not address in detail, and, as such, the modification or addition of a contingency clause is one of the more common changes made to these standard forms (particularly on guaranteed maximum price contracts).

For example, the AIA A133-2019 –Agreement Between Owner and Construction Manager as Constructor where the basis of payment is the Cost of the Work Plus a Fee with a Guaranteed Maximum Price addresses the construction contingency in Section 3.2.4:

In preparing the Construction Manager’s Guaranteed Maximum Price proposal, the Construction Manager shall include a contingency for the Construction Manager’s exclusive use to cover those costs that are included in the Guaranteed Maximum Price but not otherwise allocated to another line item or included in a Change Order.

The ConsensusDocs equivalent of this form, the ConsensusDocs 500, has no provision that addresses whether or not a contingency will be included or how it will be administered.

A sufficiently detailed and well drafted contingency clause is critical for avoiding disputes related to the fund’s administration over the course of the project. At a minimum, a contingency clause should address each of the following:

  • Is there a contingency? If yes, what is the amount of the contingency?
  • What costs can be charged to the contingency? Will there be specific categories of allowable cost items (ex. material price escalation, scope gaps, and adverse weather), or will the contractor have broad discretion to use the contingency to pay for the cost associated with the project?
  • Who approves the use of contingency funds? Can the contractor freely allocate contingency funds to other line items in the schedule of values (subject to any limitations on allowable cost items) or do all costs require prior authorization by the owner?
  • Whether or not prior owner approval is required, is the contractor required to report on its contingency spending at certain intervals? If yes, what should those reports include?
  • Can the contractor add to the contingency fund by realizing savings elsewhere?
  • What happens to unused contingency at the end of the project? Is it included in any shared savings that the parties agreed to distribute at the end of the project if the project cost is less than the Guaranteed Maximum Price or does it revert back to the owner?

Here is an example of a contractor’s contingency clause that provides flexibility and the need for notice to the owner (as opposed to approval):

Construction Manager shall include a contingency in the Guaranteed Maximum Price for the Construction Manager’s exclusive use to cover those costs that are included in the Guaranteed Maximum Price but not otherwise allocated to another line item or included in a Change Order, provided that Construction Manager shall not use the Construction Manager’s contingency for (i) costs attributable to Construction Manager or its Subcontractors’ negligence or misconduct, or (ii) costs which are covered by insurance required by the Contract Documents, or (iii) costs that are recoverable from Subcontractor(s) using reasonably diligent efforts, short of litigation. The Construction Manager shall provide the Owner with written notification and justification for utilization of the Construction Manager’s contingency on a monthly basis.

Some developers see the contractor’s contingency as a sunk cost and would rather provide for limited owner control than inject a clumsy approval process. Many of these developers believe that the offer to share the savings provides enough incentive to avoid contractor abuse. The goal of this series will be fulfilled if the parties simply discuss these issues so their contact clearly sets forth their intent and adequately covers the likely project challenges.

Given the varying perspectives on each of these considerations, contingency clauses may need to be modified on a project-by-project basis. Return back to this series for the list of considerations when modifying preferred contingency clauses as a guide through the drafting process and help ensure that the project is a success.

by Samantha Schacht
Samantha Schacht is in Husch Blackwell’s Milwaukee office and is a member of the firm’s Construction & Design practice team.

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