Why Construction Subcontractors Should Avoid “Pay When Paid” Contracts

Web Admin - Thursday, February 28, 2019
Rolling Meadows civil litigation attorney breach of contractAs a construction subcontractor, you need to be careful about how your contracts are written, or you could expose yourself to substantial risk of non-payment. One particular clause to watch out for when signing a subcontractor construction contract is the clause which specifies the circumstances of payment, also known as a payment contingency clause. This provision may take the form of either “pay when paid” or “pay if paid,” and there is a meaningful legal difference between the two.

What Is a “Pay When Paid” Clause in a Construction Contract?

It is a generally accepted practice in the construction industry that a subcontractor gets paid only after the general contractor gets paid by the property developer. If a project developer fails to pay the general contractor on time or at all, the subcontractor is also at risk of being paid late or not at all, depending on how their contract is written.

Most state courts, including Illinois, have ruled that a “pay when paid” clause does not excuse the general contractor from paying subs in the event that the property developer does not pay the general contractor. Rather, a “pay when paid” clause may be interpreted as merely specifying an approach for the timing of payments, i.e., the number of days between the time when the general contractor receives payment from the property developer and distributes payments to subcontractors.

In contrast, a “pay if paid” clause is interpreted by the courts as meaning that subcontractors will not be paid unless and until the general contractor is paid by the property developer. This shifts the risk of non-payment from the general contractor to the subcontractor. As long as the contract language is precisely written and makes it clear that the subcontractor accepts the risk that they will not be paid if the general contractor is not paid, the courts will enforce a “pay if paid” clause. If there is any ambiguity, the courts could order payment to a subcontractor even if the general contractor is not paid.

Why Should Construction Subcontractors Object to “Pay If Paid” and “Pay When Paid” Contracts?

Because the general contractor controls access to the work, they often have the leverage to demand that subcontractors accept contingent payment clauses in their contracts. However, if you are a subcontractor, it is not in your best interests to accept a “pay if paid” or “pay when paid” clause in your contracts. You are legally obligated to pay for all of your equipment and labor expenses, so you need to protect your right to be paid by the general contractor in a timely manner. 

Because they are in direct contact with the property developer, the general contractor has a greater ability than a subcontractor to assess the property developer’s finances and ability to pay. Therefore, it is only right that the general contractor should bear the risk of late payment or non-payment by the developer.

Contingent payment clauses can make it harder for you to obtain payment if the property developer breaches their contract with the general contractor. Because your contract is with the general contractor, you have no standing to sue the property developer for failure to pay. Your only recourse is typically to secure a mechanic’s lien against the property developer. The Illinois mechanic’s lien act, 770 ILCS 60/21(e), specifically protects your right as a subcontractor to file a lien even if your contract with the general contractor has a payment contingency clause. 

Consult a Palatine Construction Contracts Lawyer

It is far more cost-effective in the long run to have a lawyer review your contracts before you sign them rather than to sue someone for breach of contract after a deal goes bad or to go after money owed to you by obtaining a mechanic’s lien. Call an experienced Arlington Heights civil litigation attorney at 847-934-6000 for a free initial consultation about your current legal needs. At Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, we have the experience in both contract law and real estate law to support a wide range of legal needs for real estate developers and construction companies. 

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.


Illinois Contract Law and the Statute of Limitations

Web Admin - Thursday, March 27, 2014

illinois breach of contract attorneyLawsuits are based around some sort of legal claim, an event or controversy where someone was harmed. For contracts this harm is usually comes in the form of a breach, where one party fails to fulfill its obligations. However, people are not allowed to simply lie in wait indefinitely after a breach of contract and file a suit decades later. Instead, the law imposes a rule called a statute of limitations. This rule acts as a time limit on filing a case, though the time limit varies based on the particular circumstances of the case.

After learning about statutes of limitations, many people wonder why they exist.

Intuitively, it seems unfair that an injured party should have a countdown placed on their ability to seek compensation. In reality there are two reasons for it, fairness to the defendant and the accuracy of the trial. From the standpoint of fairness, the law believes that even if someone has done something wrong, they still have the right to deal with it in open court and then put it behind them, rather than having the threat of a lawsuit hanging over them for the rest of their life.

As for the accuracy of the trial, evidence often degrades over time. Crucial objects can be lost, and witnesses’ recollections of events can grow hazy. Consequently, courts want plaintiffs bringing cases swiftly in order to have the best information available.

How Long is the Statute of Limitations for Breach of Contract?

For the purposes of contract law the statute of limitations can be as long 10 years or as short as one depending on what type of contract it is. The longest time limit, 10 years, belongs to breaches of standard written contracts. However, if the contract breached was an oral one rather than a written one, then Illinois law brings the statute of limitations down from 10 years to five. Certain sales contracts can have even shorter limits, four years by default, but the terms of the contract can opt to limit it to as little as one year.

In addition to the question of how long the statute of limitations is, the other major concern is the question of when the clock starts to count down. The general rule is that the time limit starts running from the moment of the breach, not the moment that the breach causes the injury. However, there is an exception to this normal starting point if something called the Discovery Rule applies.

The Discovery Rule "tolls" the statute of limitations, meaning that it prevents the time from counting down, until the injured party either discovers the breach or should have reasonably discovered the breach. Importantly, the Discovery Rule does not function for all breach of contract claims in Illinois, so whether it applies will depend on the specific facts of a case. There are also other rules that can toll the statute under certain circumstances such as if the injured party is a minor or away on military service.

If you believe you have a claim against someone for breaching a contract, contact a Palatine civil litigation attorney before the statute of limitations on your claim expires. Our experienced lawyers help clients across northwest suburban Cook County, in towns like Barrington, Des Plaines, and Crystal Lake.

About the Author: Founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, Colin Gilbert, received his J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of law in 2005. Colin argues cases across many practice areas including criminal defense, collections, civil litigation, real estate law, and corporate law. Colin is an active member of the Board of Governors of the Northwest Suburban Bar Association and the Illinois Creditors Bar Association. He is currently Vice President of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, and is a Commissioner for the Village of Arlington Heights. Colin has a 10.0 Attorney rating on Avvo, and was named one of the 2014 “Top 40 Under 40” Trial Lawyers in Illinois by the National Trial Lawyers Association.

The Case of Bear v. Goldilocks

Web Admin - Thursday, February 27, 2014

illinois criminal civil lawyerWhile people often see the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears as nothing more than a children’s story, it can also act as a simple overview of the legal system. After all, Goldilocks commits a variety of different offenses, both civil and criminal, throughout the story. 

The difference between a civil case and a criminal case is that a civil case involves a dispute between two private parties, the Bears and Goldilocks, while the criminal case involves the state pursuing Goldilocks for her illegal actions. Of course, many of Goldilocks’ actions can give rise to both civil liability and criminal charges.

The Civil Case: Bear v. Goldilocks

The Bears have three claims for which they may be able to sue Goldilocks: trespassing on their land, conversion of the porridge, and conversion of the chair. The Bears can easily show that Goldilocks trespassed on their land, but they will likely not receive any money for doing so, since her act of trespassing did not appear to cause any actual damage on its own. 

As for the claims of conversion, the Bears must show three things: that they owned the porridge and chair, that Goldilocks took some act inconsistent with that ownership, and that their property was damaged by Goldilocks’ acts. Since Goldilocks ate the porridge, and then sat in and broke the chair, the Bears can show that she converted those items and recover their value from Goldilocks.

The Criminal Case: The People v. Goldilocks

The state could also bring criminal charges against Goldilocks for all three of those same actions. These charges would be criminal trespass to land, petty theft of the porridge, and criminal damage to property for breaking the chair. However, the state would not have as easy a case as the Bears did suing for those same actions.

Trespassing is a crime in Illinois punishable by up to a $500 fine and six months in jail, but in order to be guilty of trespassing, a person must enter the land after being warned not to, or they must stay on the land after being told to leave. Unless the Bears had posted a sign warning trespassers, it would only be a civil offense. On the other hand, if Goldilocks had entered the house with a plan to commit a crime, she would be guilty of burglary, a class 2 felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The petty theft of the porridge is an easier case. She clearly steals the porridge by eating it, and in Illinois the seriousness of the theft is determined by the value of the item. Since the porridge was probably worth less than $500, it would be petty theft, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a $2500 fine and one year in prison.

The state could also press charges against her for criminal damage to property for her breaking the chair, but this would likely fail. In Illinois, a person must knowingly damage the property to be guilty of the criminal offense. Because Goldilocks did not know she would break the chair if she sat in it, that charge would probably fail.

If you have recently found yourself involved with criminal charges or civil litigation, contact an attorney today. A Rolling Meadows criminal defense or civil litigation attorney can put their knowledge and legal experience to work for you. Our team serves clients across the northwest suburbs, in areas such as Schaumburg, Palatine, Barrington, and Inverness.

About the Author: Founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, Colin Gilbert, received his J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of law in 2005. Colin argues cases across many practice areas including criminal defense, collections, real estate law, and corporate law. He is involved in his local Illinois community as an active member of the DuPage County Bar Association, Northwest Suburban Bar Association, and the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, Colin was nominated for 2012 Business Leader of the Year by the Chamber.

New “Lemon Law” Aims to Protect Pet Owners

Web Admin - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

By Colin H. Gilbert

(847) 934-6000 ext 12.

While bringing home a new pet can often be a fun time for a family, new pet owners may sometimes find their excitement dampened as they discover unfortunate diseases or other health conditions that the pet store never warned them about. Fortunately, a new law in Illinois is trying to prevent that and to give new pet owners a recourse if it does happen. Illinois' new “Puppy Lemon Law,” which applies to cats as well as dogs, went into effect at the beginning of 2014. The law comes with two major parts, notification provisions and liability provisions. The notification provisions lay out new disclosure rules for pet shop operators and the liability provisions cover what happens in the event that the operator sells a sick pet.

Notification Provisions

The first part of the new law is proactive. It places new requirements on a pet shop operator in the case of contagious, life-threatening illnesses such as parvovirus or distemper. In the event that such an illness breaks out among the pet shop operator's animals, the operator must inform the State Veterinarian within two days. The State Veterinarian will then decide if the outbreak is severe enough to merit a quarantine of the animals. If it is, then the operator has two more business days to alert anyone who purchased a cat or dog in the last two weeks.

Liability Provisions

The new law also provides pet owners with the opportunity to sue pet shop operators in certain cases of new pets taking ill. Pet owners may sue in two situations. First, an owner may sue the pet shop operator if a veterinarian declares a pet unfit for sale due to a disease or severe parasitic infestation within 21 days of purchase, or if the pet dies of such disease within that time period. Second, an owner may sue if a veterinarian states, within one year of purchase, that the pet suffers from a congenital or hereditary disease, which requires hospitalization or non-elective surgery, or has caused the death of the pet.

In the event that the pet owner can recover from the pet store, they can choose a variety remedies.

• They may exchange the pet for a full refund.
• They may exchange the pet for another of comparable value.
• They may keep the pet and receive payment for its veterinary bills.
• And, if the pet is deceased, they may receive a full refund plus veterinary costs up to twice the pet’s purchase price.

If your family recently purchased a new pet that is now suffering from serious health issues, contact a Barrington civil litigation attorney today. We serve many areas in the Northwest suburbs including Crystal Lake, Rolling Meadows, and Des Plaines.

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