Andy Hewitt

Coronavirus | Advice for Contractors, Engineers & Employers

Our last blog looked at whether contractors are entitled to claim for an extension of time and/or costs because of the effects of Coronavirus and examined the provisions under the FIDIC Red and Yellow Books.

This was our standpoint just four short weeks ago, at a time when some contractors were anticipating that delays may be caused by supply chain problems associated with plant, goods or materials sourced from China and the few travel restrictions which were then in place.

Our advice was that provided the Contractor can demonstrate delay to the Time for Completion and/or the incurrence of Cost, he will be entitled to an extension of time and may be entitled to claim for additional payment for Cost incurred.

Since then though things have changed drastically. Some countries are on total lockdown with people having to stay at home. Many countries have imposed travel bans. So, the effects of Coronavirus have now become extreme and are likely to be long-lasting.

As a result, HDP directors decided that it would be helpful to examine the options available to the Parties as the situation continues to develop. Again, we shall look at the provisions of the FIDIC Red and Yellow Books.

Suspension

The Employer may consider that if the Contractor is not able to proceed with the Works for the foreseeable future, it may be sensible to suspend the Works to minimise any cost which may become due to the Contractor.

Sub-Clause 8.8 (Suspension of Work) allows the Engineer to issue a suspension instruction and the Contractor is obliged to protect, store and secure the Works against deterioration, loss or damage, so this would effectively ‘mothball’ the project until the Employer decides to lift the suspension. In a case of suspension, the Contractor would be entitled under Sub-Clause 8.9 (Consequences of Suspension) to an extension of time and the payment of Costs including mobilisation and demobilisation costs, so the Employer must weigh up the options here.

Sub-Clause 8.11 (Prolonged Suspension) however, allows the Contractor to terminate the Contract if the suspension affects the whole of the works and the suspension period continues for more than 84 days. We are unsure how contractors will react as and when things return to normal and operations are resumed. Presumably though, many of them will be willing to pick up where they left off.

FIDIC does not provide any options for the Contractor to suspend the Works under the circumstances arising from Coronavirus.

Termination

There are two clauses in FIDIC which give the Employer entitlement to terminate the Contract. Sub-Clause 15.2 (Termination by Employer) allows the Employer to terminate because of various acts of default by the Contractor. In our opinion, it cannot be said that inability to progress the works in the circumstances of the coronavirus is a default of the Contractor, therefore this is inapplicable.

Sub-Clause 15.5 (Employer‘s Entitlement to Termination) however allows the Employer to terminate for his own convenience by giving 28 days notice. Nothing can be sensibly predicted at the moment, but it could be that as things progress, some employers will simply decide not to proceed further with the project, or at least not for some considerable time.

Our earlier blog suggested that it is uncertain whether the coronavirus constitutes a Force Majeure event under FIDIC, but if the Parties agree that it does, Sub-Clause 19.6 (Optional Termination, Payment and Release) provides that if the Works are prevented from progressing for a period of 84 days or for multiple periods of 140 days by reasons of Force Majeure, then either party may terminate the Contract.

Sub-Clause 19.7 (Release from Performance Under the Law) provides that

if any event or circumstance outside the control of the Parties arises under the Law which makes it impossible or unlawful for either or both Parties to fulfil its or their contractual obligations … the Parties shall be discharged from further performance…’

This may apply in circumstances where governments have introduced measures to control Coronavirus which have, in fact, made further performance impossible and becomes effectively a further reason for termination by either party.

Finally

The circumstances arising from Coronavirus have never been experienced before, or at least not within the memory of most people. They are drastic and far reaching. Whilst we have given our opinions on the applications of the FIDIC contracts to the situation, this has been from a purely contractual point of view. In our opinion, the FIDIC contracts do not really envisage such a situation.

That said, it's important to look beyond what the FIDIC Contracts do or do not say. In a situation as serious as this, the Parties have to think 'outside the box' of the contract and find ways to work together to safeguard the personnel involved, to comply with government rules and regulations and to seek ways to manage the project to the best abilities of both Parties.

The ability to maintain progress and complete on time may well be totally out of the control of both Parties. Contractors may be expending substantial additional costs and will suffer from cashflow problems and will be powerless to control things. In short – both sides of the contracting fence will undoubtably suffer in one way or another and it would, in our opinion, be unfair for either Party to attempt to gain any advantage from the situation.

Don’t forget that, provided both parties are in agreement, contracts may be amended at any time, so despite what the contracts say we encourage all involved to reach agreement on a course of action which will be the least harmful to the parties and the project.

Hewitt Decipher Partnership’s expert consultants have been preparing and responding to claims for many years and we have investigated Coronavirus from a contractual standpoint. We can also see ‘outside’ the contract to look at matters from a project management point of view to seek ways to resolve situations and reach agreement on what is best for the project.

Can we help you? Get in touch via our contact page; we would be happy to discuss any support that you may need. 


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