Paragon Construction Co. v. Department of Public Works
A court may construe any ambiguity in a construction contract that has specifications of "bewildering complexity" against the party that drafted the contract. The plaintiff, Paragon Construction Co., served as the general contractor to renovate the Cheshire Correctional Center. The original contract clearly required the plaintiff to install new horizontal steel bars, to reinforce the spaces between steel bars. When it prepared the bid, the plaintiff assumed it was not required to delead and to paint the metal bars that already existed. Specifications for the project, wrote the court, were of "bewildering complexity." Evidence existed that the state drafted many of the same specifications for prior projects, reused them for the subject contract, and failed to include the metal security grill. The parties' dispute, wrote the court, could have been avoided, if the parties' contract had stated, "The contractor shall strip and repaint all bars on the security grill, both vertical and horizontal, new and existing, and remove any lead paint." The actual contract provided, "Painting is not required on prefinished items, finished metal surfaces. . . ." The contract as written, wrote the court, implied that the plaintiff was not required to paint bars that already were painted. The state drafted the contract, and the court construed any ambiguity against the drafter. The plaintiff proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the contract did not require the plaintiff to remove and to delead the metal bars. "[T]he state breached its contract with the plaintiff," wrote the court, "by ordering it to do additional deleading work not called for by, and outside the scope of, the contract." The plaintiff billed the state extra, because the plaintiff performed extra work. Work delays resulted, because the state did not immediately approve requests for payment for extra work. The plaintiff was not required to mitigate damages, as alleged. The court subtracted 25 percent of damages requested in connection with construction delays, because evidence existed that the plaintiff was partially at fault as a result of lack of materials and labor shortages. The court awarded the plaintiff damages in the amount of $392,454.