Avoiding Defective Specifications

by Frank J. Giunta, (M.ASCE), Project Director; Hill International, Willingboro, NJ,
Alann M. Ramierez, Senior Consultant; Hill International, Willingboro, NJ,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 9, Pg. 70-71

Document Type: Feature article


Despite everyone's best efforts, the design intent as portrayed in the contract documents is rarely crystal clear. As a result, the owner and the project team often find themselves in a debate with the contractor over interpretations of contract terms. The number one cause of construction disputes is defective specifications, according to a recent study by Charles Jahren and Bruce Dammeier. Ambiguous instructions, design discrepancies, or outright omissions in the contract documents can derail a project by increasing construction time and budgets. Defective specifications can also force everyone into court to determine who should pay for the unanticipated costs. Ambiguous specifications, where more than one reasonable interpretation can be drawn from a document's language, cause the most trouble. A specification isn't considered ambiguous merely because the parties can't agree on one meaning. According to the courts, if each party's interpretation of a specification is found to be consistent with the contract language and can be reasonably supported, then the contract specification is ambiguous.

Subject Headings: Owners | Team building | Contractors and subcontractors | Budgets | Court decisions

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