What Florida Construction Contractors Need to Know About the Legal Risks of COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrown much of Florida’s construction industry into chaos. Some localities have ordered projects to suspend, while others continue. And even for those projects still going, there are mounting delays as subcontractors and suppliers struggle to keep going.
If you find yourself unsure of what steps to take to manage the legal risks arising from this emergency, here are a few general things to keep in mind:
Review All of Your Existing Contracts
While COVID-19 may not have been a foreseeable event when you began work on a project, your contracts will still contain language about your rights in the event of “unforeseen” circumstances or delays caused by events outside of your control. It is therefore critical you carefully review all of your existing contracts. In particular, you need to understand which contracts contain a “force majeure” provision that might afford you relief if you are unable to complete work on time.
Keep in mind, however, that even if the COVID-19 emergency enables you to invoke a force majeure clause, your contract will likely still require you to give appropriate notice in order to enjoy its benefits. Typically, you need to provide written notice to the project owner that provides a clear, concise explanation of why you are unable to complete work at this time.
On the flip side, the owner may be forced to suspend a project. Your contract should include contingencies for this scenario as well. Depending on the language, you may be able to terminate the contract outright in the event of an owner suspension and still received some compensation. Also note that an owner’s actions may still constitute a “suspension” under the contract, even if the owner does not expressly use that term.
Identify and Document All Potential Issues
Even in a pandemic situation, you still need to be proactive in identifying potential issues with completing a project as early as possible. It is critical to stay in contact with your key subcontractors and vendors. Any potential disruption in your supply chain or labor needs to be addressed quickly. For example, if a vendor is unable to obtain materials from overseas right now, you may need to re-source those items domestically. Similarly, if a subcontractor is unable to keep their people working due to illnesses, you might need to find a temporary labor supplier.
Keep Your People Safe
Of course, you should always prioritize the safety of everyone working on the job site and in your offices. Make sure that your people are following the hygiene and social distancing protocols issued by public health authorities. And when necessary, be prepared to change your own protocols for how certain tasks are performed to adjust to the “new normal.”
Get Advice from a Florida Construction Attorney
The legal situation surrounding COVID-19 remains in a constant state of flux, especially here in Florida. You will no doubt come across a number of legal questions and issues for which you have no immediate answer. The Florida construction attorneys at Linkhorst & Hockin, P.A., can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. We are currently working remotely during this crisis and are ready and able to help you with your legal needs.