Construction Dispute Law in Massachusetts
When the owner of some real estate and a contractor enter an agreement for a construction project in Northampton, Massachusetts, be it a house, landscaping project, or huge office building, there's always a chance that problems will come up, no matter how careful everyone is. A few minor setbacks are almost inevitable, in fact.
Most often, the owners of land and contractors can end disputes before they get too serious, thus eliminating the need for litigation. Most contracts governing construction projects have built-in remedies for the most common problems, typically requiring the party that causes a delay or other problem to pay the other party a set fee.
Even if disagreements can't be resolved amongst the parties to the contract, they don't need to take their dispute into the court system. For instance, construction contracts typically call for mediation or arbitration before any disputes are resolved by the courts. Mediation is a process by which a third party serves as a sort of intermediary in settlement negotiations between the parties to the contract. The mediator can help keep negotiations on track, and suggest possible solutions the parties might not have thought of. The mediator can't issue a binding decision, however. Arbitration is a process through which the parties agree to have their dispute resolved by a third party, which can render a binding decision. Arbitration can be faster and cheaper than litigation, and it has some other advantages, as well.
Litigating a construction dispute in Northampton, Massachusetts is definitely not something that anybody likes doing. However, it is sometimes necessary, as a last resort.
Examples of Construction Disputes That Might Lead to Litigation in Northampton, Massachusetts
Major Delays: If the contractor or a subcontractor is at fault in causing a considerable delay to a project (several months, for example), this may lead to a lawsuit. If the contract stated that time was of the essence for some reason (maybe the project was a new store that the owner hoped to open before the holiday shopping season, for example), a court can typically award the owner any damages that were caused by the delay.
Owner's refusal to pay: if the contractor finishes a project to specifications, and the owner of the property doesn't pay the contractor, the contractor will most likely file a lawsuit to recover the agreed-upon price. In such cases, the owner will typically argue that the contractor's work wasn't of acceptable quality. In these cases, the court must decide who first breached the contract. In these cases, it's the party who did not breach first who wins the lawsuit. If the court finds that the contractor breached the contract through sub-quality work product, the owner will not be responsible for payment (though he may have to pay for materials and labor), and if the court finds that the construction was acceptable, the owner has to pay, because he is the party in breach.
Subcontractor Disputes: When a construction company is contracted to complete a large project, there is typically a great deal of specialized work to be done which they aren't equipped to handle. As a result, they hire other contractors, who, in this arrangement, are subcontractors, to do some of the work. However, the general contractor (the one that the landowner hired to do the work) is still responsible for the completion of the project - if a subcontractor causes a problem, the general contractor is on the hook for it. This sometimes leads to landowners suing general contractors for the mistakes of subcontractors. If the general contractor loses, and has to pay the client, the general contractor can then sue the subcontractor for whatever amount of money it had to pay.
Mechanic's Liens: Sometimes, when a contractor wins in a lawsuit against the landowner who hired him or her, and obtains a court order for payment, the contractor will still refuse to pay. Since a money judgment isn't worth much without a way to enforce it, the laws of many states have evolved to permit what's known as a "mechanic's lien." As a last resort, if a landowner refuses to pay the contractor for work done on the property, the contractor can force a sale of the property, and keep the proceeds, up to the amount of money owed.
Can a Northampton, Massachusetts Attorney Help?
If you are involved in a dispute over a construction project, you should try to avoid litigation, and settle the matter as amicably as possible. However, litigation is sometimes necessary, and a Northampton, Massachusetts construction disputes attorney can be of great help.