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Critical Design Error Set Contractor Up For Failure

Thursday, March 01, 2012 04:43 am


Design -- Contract Termination

Martin Construction, Inc. v. U.S., 2011 U.S. Claims Lexis 2364 (Dec. 20, 2011)

A critical defect in the government's design for a marina's cofferdam was enough to convince a court to convert a default termination to one of convenience??"and to chastise the government, not for making the design error, but for refusing to accept any responsibility for it.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) terminated its contract with Martin Construction, Inc. (Martin) for default after the contractor failed to timely complete its construction work at a lake marina in Garrison, North Dakota. Martin alleged that the default termination was improper because the Corps' defective design caused project delays, making it impossible for the contractor to complete its work on time. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims agreed.

The project required Martin to construct a cofferdam (a watertight enclosure for foundation construction) by first placing fill in an underwater zone, then dewatering the area behind it and placing compacted earth fill. Martinencountered several difficulties in the dewatering stage and found it impossible to construct a stable cofferdam according to the project design. Martin discovered that water was infiltrating through the underwater fill more quickly than it could be pumped out, and this led to a protracted period of various Corps' directives to shore up the underwater fill, first with a clay wedge and finally using field stone. Even after the Corps declared the cofferdam in working order, Martin continued to warn the agency that its design was creating ongoing stability problems and safety hazards.

Spearin: Contractor not liable [...]

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