By Bruce Jervis
Construction contract documents can be complex, which is another way of saying lengthy, redundant and laden with specialized terminology. Some would even say obtuse. But are the contract documents sometimes deliberately obtuse?
In one recent case, an indemnification clause was buried on page 86 of a 197-page subcontract, all single-spaced in black type. No effort was made to call the other party’s attention to the clause through the use of capital letters, a different type size or different color.
The indemnification clause, which was found in a section captioned Protection of Existing Structures, became pivotal in subsequent multi-million-dollar litigation. A federal appeals court ruled that the indemnification clause was not sufficiently conspicuous to be enforceable. It violated the Texas “Fair Notice Rule.”
Are onerous terms deliberately buried in voluminous contract documents, creating a trap for the unwary? Or, is every party signing a contract simply obligated to be thoroughly familiar with the content of that document? It is interesting to note that the court ruling in question benefited a large, sophisticated constructor – an entity with ample access to legal counsel. What do you think?