Construction stands as one of the largest industries in the entire United States. As a developed nation, the United States has a constant need for updating or constructing new buildings, often of great size. Schools, apartments, banks, malls, and office buildings have to come from somewhere, and the massive American construction industry is ready for any job. A construction project will be undertaken when several different contractor crews work together to pool their expertise and materials, but this means that relations must be smooth. Problems often arise on a construction site, and sometimes, property is damaged, workers are injured (or even killed), or invoices are running late. When such issues arise, construction law can help settle disputes. A construction lawyer can use construction law to help resolve a dispute or pursue litigation against an at-fault party on behalf of a worker or an entire crew. Employment law may also become relevant in such a matter, and commercial real estate law might enter the picture as well. What is there to know about construction law and the construction industry as a whole?
It is commonplace for legal disputes to arise during a construction project, and some cases have been quite large. The AAA, the American Arbitration Association, has administered many cases before, often worth millions of dollars. In 2015, for example, the AAA administered some 551 cases of construction law disputes, each worth $500,000 or more. The largest of all the mediated cases was worth close to $2.6 billion, and the largest arbitration case of them all was worth $96 million. In that year, the total value of all claims and counter-claims added up to an impressive $5.5 billion. This may not be so surprising, however, when one realizes the sheer size of the construction industry: close to $1.1 trillion. It should also be noted that as with other lawyer work, such cases do not always go to court for resolution. Going to court is complicated and expensive for all involved parties, so most often, construction law is used for litigation and settling a matter before court.
Hazard at the Workplace
What might occur at a project site that necessitates legal action? One potential problem is worker injury or fatalities, and the construction industry is well known for its many physical dangers. For example, workers may get hit or run over by vehicles such as backhoes, steamrollers, or bulldozers, which can certainly injure or kill someone, unfortunately. Workers might have heavy items or loads accidentally dropped on them, or workers might get their arms or legs stuck in machines or trapped under something heavy. And there is more than blunt trauma out there. Open flames might burn flesh, or airborne fumes or particles may harm the lungs. Construction workers often face respiratory hazards, such as airborne silicates created from cutting concrete or bricks. Fumes from engines or paint thinner might also harm a worker, as can spray foam chemicals.
Another cause for concern at the construction site may be the damage or property or materials. Equipment such as jack hammers, electrical saws, blowtorches, spray foam guns, or more may be misused or damaged, and these are often expensive items. Or, a worker may accidentally hit a construction vehicle while operating another, or knock over large piles of materials or damage a wall.
Late or missing invoices may be another issue. Construction crews arrange invoices for the use of each other’s materials and equipment, and if invoices are running late or never get paid, the creditor party may pursue litigation.
What can be done about all this? Many problems can be avoided entirely when construction lawyers are involved in the project’s early stages. Such attorneys handle paperwork for invoice payments to be made, following construction and safety codes and regulations, and the project’s schedule. In cases of injury or damaged property, these lawyers may represent a contractor crew or just one worker, such as if a worker was injured by another crew’s equipment. These lawyers may also take legal action if another party attempts wrongful termination of the construction project. Conversely, project termination may be started if the project is far behind schedule, far over its budget, or if accidents and injuries are becoming unacceptably common on site.