After completion of my formal civil engineering training, I pursued a career as an engineer and executive employed by contractors in the heavy construction industry. Before too long, I became involved with a number of intractable disputes with a project’s owner in connection with a tunnel contract I was managing. My employer suggested that I meet with our firm’s lawyer to obtain guidance regarding some contract issues, and during that meeting and subsequent ones, I quickly came to realize how little I knew about some of the legal and practical aspects of construction contracts, despite having been exposed to an engineering school course on contracts. I also became aware that most of the lawyers with whom I was dealing had less than a full appreciation of the real-world challenges imposed upon those who manage construction.
I subsequently discovered that the ignorance I just described is common. Unfortunately, many, if not most, professionals involved in the construction process do not have a thorough practical understanding of the law as it applies to the contracting business. Those of us involved in the industry work in a highly complex and constantly evolving world. In addition to the obvious expertise required in engineering, construction methods, equipment, and costs, our knowledge must also encompass such other disciplines and specialties as politics, the environment, labor, finance, banking, accounting, taxes, safety, insurance, and bonding. With all of these burdens, it is not surprising that many practitioners have only a rudimentary and sometimes mistaken understanding of our construction contracts and the law that applies to them. Both owners and contractors have great sensitivity and concern with securing and protecting their rights. Many disputes would be avoided, however, if more of those involved had knowledge, greater sensitivity, and concern regarding their responsibilities as parties to the process.
Over the years, our industry has burdened the nation’s courts and other resources with many disputes that the contracting parties have been unable to resolve internally. The industry has been making heroic efforts to reduce this burden with some success, but much more needs to be done. The enhancement of the parties’ practical knowledge of the law will be helpful. Many disputes have at their core a lack of understanding of the law and its application to construction contracts. Construction professionals are not the only ones who are ignorant. The problem is complicated by an occasional, poorly considered, and confusing court decision that complicates and modifies long-settled legal principles.
With this background, the author presents a comprehensive overview of some of the legal principles and practices that relate to contracting for construction. While this book is designed for use as a text for a university course, students as well as practitioners employed by all of the parties will be better equipped to confidently supervise and manage the construction of our infrastructure armed with the information and wisdom contained herein. The incidence of disputes no doubt will be reduced, and our society and industry will be the beneficiary.
Norman A. Nadel, P.E.
Former Chairman & CEO, MacLean Grove & Company, Inc.
Fellow, American Society of Civil Engineers
Member, National Academy of Engineering