For argument's sake, let's say that you, the flatwork subcontractor, actually have done everything you were supposed to do prior to the first slab placement to protect yourself:
- You've understood the engineer probably doesn't know very much about slab-on-grade physics, his floor design is probably flawed, and you are going to be the one who is blamed when the owner is disappointed.
- You've gotten your proposal incorporated verbatim into your contract.
- You've used the RFI process (and, if necessary, exposure of the designer's warranty charade) to force correction of the design's errors.
- You've presented the owner with a formal warranty stating precisely what you will and will not guarantee, and how any covered defects will be repaired.
- You've hosted and documented an offsite pre-slab meeting with the owner, designer, and GC where all significant design, construction, and testing issues were reviewed—and where the owner's expectations were adjusted to conform to reality.
Now that it's time for you to place concrete, what must you still do to defend yourself?
First, you must remember Murphy's Law is always at work, especially when the interests of others on whom you must rely conflict with your own.
Rule No. 6a: If it isn't in writing, it was never said.
Because every lawyer agrees with
Rule No. 6a, you must commit yourself to documenting—at the instant it happens—every significant departure from your construction plan that is forced upon you. Don't worry about making these problem reports neat and pretty. A handwritten note is fine. Just make sure the note is dated, signed, and given to project management immediately.
Having to start already behind schedule because the base, forming, or steel still needs work, or because the concrete is there too early, coming too fast, or the inspections haven't been signed off, is unacceptable. Whenever this happens, the domino effect kicks in, and everything goes straight downhill from there. The poor preparation of others must always be documented.
Rule No. 6c: During construction, schedule is the important thing. When it's time for you to be paid, quality becomes the most important thing.
You often are pressured to place concrete under conditions much worse than those agreed upon, either through the fault of nature or the shortcomings of others. Even worse, the people making the demand expect you to assume full responsibility for any problems that result.
Rule No. 6d: Never accept any demand that requires you to abandon your better judgment, unless it is in writing and unless it relieves you of all liability for any adverse consequences.
If the person making the demand refuses to put it in writing and refuses to take full responsibility for what happens, then in deference to Clair Boothe Luce's aphorism about no good deed going unpunished, immediately fall back on:
Rule No. 6e: When in doubt, cut the placement off.
Remember Frankeny's Law: “It's always better to stop the pour than to screw up the floor.”
Rule No. 6f: Submit a Pour History Report, results, within 48 hours after including the FF/FLevery slab placement.*
With your delivery of this final report detailing what actually happened, you'll be armed to the hilt for court. But now you should never have to go there, because all this dog work has made your position virtually unassailable.
Allen Face is inventor of the F-number system, F-min system, Dipstick, F-Meter, D-Meter, and Screed Rail. He is also an ACI Fellow and a long-time member of ACI Committees 302, 360, and 117.
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