Project documentation can help avoid claims or litigation altogether. Good and timely communication can mitigate or eliminate surprises between parties. A clear understanding of what transpired during a project can prevent claims from turning into costly litigation.
Project documentation helps answer the important question of: “who knew what, when?” If an issue is well documented then there is very often no reason to disagree and any questions that arise will generally have an answer that is supported by a paper trail of documentation.
The outcome of construction litigation is determined by the FACTS of what occurred at or on the project. The facts can be shown through accurate and up-to-date documentation. Thus, effective project documentation can lower litigation costs or prevent litigation altogether.
SOME SUGGESTED METHODS OF PROJECT DOCUMENTATION
Daily reports can be essential for supporting and defending pre-litigation and litigation construction claims. These reports should be created contemporaneously with the work that is completed each day, meaning, these reports should actually be daily reports. It is much easier to recall what happened on a particular day the day it occurred as oppose to trying to piece the puzzle together a few days later. Daily reports should become a routine.
Daily reports can consist of some of the following items:
- Who worked on the project that day?
- Who are they employed by? Are they covered by insurance?
- What are their daily duties/tasks?
- Were those tasks completed? If not, why?
- How many hours were workers present on the job site?
- What equipment was used on the job site that day?
- Who owns the equipment? Is the equipment owned by the contractor(s) or was it rented?
- What was the purpose of the equipment?
- What events were scheduled for the day? Were they completed?
- What was the weather on the given day?
- Were there any delays due to weather? How long were the delays and will that affect the overall completion time of the project?
- Time and Date
- Visitor and/or Delivery Log
- Who visited the job site? What was their purpose of visiting? How long did they stay?
- Were there any deliveries to the job site? If so, what were they and what purpose did the materials serve?
Meeting minutes should be a complete reflection of every topic or issue discussed during the meeting. The overall purpose of the meeting should also be reflected. This ensures that anyone reading the minutes thereafter that was not in attendance has a comprehensive understanding of what transpired during the meeting. The minutes should be inclusive insofar as they capture all comments from both sides on any particular issues or topics that were discussed. Accuracy and completeness are the goals of documenting meeting minutes.
E-Mails / Text Messages
How are you currently set up? One server? Multiple servers? Employees use personal email? E-discovery issues!! Text? Company phone or personal?
All emails are subject to discovery and turnover to the other side in the unfortunate event of a lawsuit. E-mails and text messages should only be sent with the understanding that they may become public in litigation at some point. I know that is scary. What is your email retention program? Do you print and file your emails? It may be useful to print and store hardcopy emails just like you should store these electronically in whatever email retention program you have.
Emails are useful as a form of contemporaneous communication. Emails are just as important as hard copy correspondence and thus must be given the same due diligence as any form of hard copy communication.
Schedules allow contractors to provide the owner of a project with a timeline for when specific work will be completed. Schedules serve as guideposts for all parties involved in a project. A schedule should set out attainable deadlines that give each party the ability to understand what is occurring at any given point on a project. Schedules are a record of what has happened and what will happen on a project and should be used as a contemporaneous communication between the owner and contractors.
- Daily reports in the version of a checklist can help save time.
- Electronic checklists on a phone or tablet can also save time and ensure that information is stored legibly as opposed to handwriting a daily report.
- Take pictures! Pictures capture the facts, evidence, and events at a project. Be sure to note the time and date the picture was taken.
This list is not exhaustive or all encompassing. Rather, it is a good starting point for construction project participants to ensure they are documenting their projects in a way that can hopefully prevent costly litigation in the future.