By Bruce Jervis
Construction contracts make extensive use of trade standards when defining the work. It is common for contracts to utilize or reference industry manuals, standards or specifications. But these objective standards are not the same as “trade custom.”
Trade custom is sometimes used to interpret, or understand, trade standards which are used in a contract. It is important to remember, however, that customary practice in the field, no matter how prevalent, cannot alter or supersede the express language of the contract documents.
This principle was illustrated on a recent federal construction project. The drawings and specifications unambiguously described a work requirement, albeit in a manner which arguably deviated from trade practice. The drawings and specifications prevailed. They could not be altered by trade custom.
What has been your experience? Are contract terms sometimes so vaguely or poorly drafted that it is necessary to resort to trade custom? Or, are contractors quick to rely on customary practices to the detriment of express requirements in the contract? I welcome your comments.