Washington’s Court of Appeals, Division III, recently weighed in on the application of quantum meruit recovery when timely notice is at issue. In General Construction Company v. Grant County PUD No. 2, 195 Wn. App. 698, 380 P.3d 636 (2016), the court was tasked with determining if the doctrine of quantum meruit still held in Washington. This “unduly convoluted and overly lawyered” (in the words of the court) matter arose out of a contract to build a fish ladder along the Columbia River in Central Washington. As with most complicated projects, “[c]hange was constant” and “numerous.” Not surprisingly, some changes were formally requested by the general, and some where not.
Although Washington law generally requires that, absent an unequivocal waiver of the contractual notice requirements by an owner, contract notice requirements must be followed by contractors. The court allowed recovery in quantum meruit as “an appropriate basis for recovery when substantial changes occur which are not covered by the contract and were not within the contemplation of the parties, if the effect is to require extra work and materials or to cause substantial loss to the contractor.”
It remains continually important for contractors to strive to comply with their contract notice requirements when change inevitably occurs. Proper documentation of agreed changes –either within or outside of the scope of work—is paramount. With all of the pressure and stress inherent in even small scale construction projects it is easy to overlook the documentation of a handshake agreement or corrective course of action. Too often contractors choose to “deal with it later.” Although in General Construction the contractor was awarded quantum meruit recovery, it could have all too easily lost big. Compliance with contractual obligations (especially when inconvenient) and proper documentation of field decisions remains the best way to protect your rights.