Preventing disputes in Building projects

By Suryen Nullatamby, Birkett Long
It is an unfortunate reality of the construction industry that protracted, expensive and time-consuming litigation is commonplace. Though some disputes are inevitable, many can be avoided or reduced in scope if the parties take certain steps before work starts onsite.
Published in Suffolk Director Magazine Summer | Autumn 2023

Legal: Birkett Long

It is an unfortunate reality of the construction industry that protracted, expensive and time-consuming litigation is commonplace. Though some disputes are inevitable, many can be avoided or reduced in scope if the parties take certain steps before work starts onsite.

The following points should always be considered by contractors and employers.

Ensure there is a written contract

Many construction disputes occur due to a lack of certainty between the parties; parties can be unsure as to matters of payment, expenses, works and more. Without a contract, one party could end up in a weaker legal position. So, it is crucial to ensure that there is a written contract signed by everyone, setting out the responsibilities of each party and stating what happens should things go wrong. This gives clarity and avoids many potential disputes; its importance cannot be stressed strongly enough as it will serve to protect your position.

Keep lines of communication open

Just as important as having clarity, is ensuring that as works progress onsite, lines of communication remain open. It is clear that many disputes arise from a breakdown in communication. Yet, things can often be nipped in the bud by meeting the other party face to face and attempting to come to a compromise before the matter escalates.

Consider alternative methods to resolve your dispute

Formal litigation proceedings are expensive and time-consuming; this is as true of construction disputes as any other. On top of that, formal litigation can be incredibly risky: you could end up paying the other party’s costs along with your own, as well as damages. If it proves impossible to settle the dispute through meetings and compromise, there are alternative methods of resolution that avoid going to court. These can be facilitated by a written contract, which can outline methods to be used in a dispute. Often, a dispute will be referred to adjudication. Quicker (often taking 28 days) and cheaper than formal litigation, adjudication is an avenue designed for the industry and produces a remedy for construction disputes that acknowledge the cash flow issues caused by a project stalling.

Reduce your risk

When disputes occur, knowing the do’s and don’ts can help to reduce your risk. For example, even if you are in the right, you can severely weaken your position by downing tools and suspending work. There is a temptation to stop work if payments are late, but if you do you risk a repudiatory breach of contract, which can make you liable for damages.

The most important thing is to exercise caution before taking any drastic steps. Seeking advice from a construction law solicitor will be far more effective early in a dispute than at the point matters have escalated.

Preventing disputes in Building projects 1

Suryen Nullatamby is Senior Associate, Team Leader Dispute at Birkett Long.

If you are about to embark upon a construction project – as contractor, sub-contractor, employer or client – or require any assistance in relation to a construction dispute, please contact

T: 01245 453827
E: Suryen.nullatamby@birkettlong.co.uk
Or visit www.birkettlong.co.uk

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