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.

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