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Tag Archives | Shaw Development v. Southern Builders

Reactions to Green Building Industry’s First LEED Certification “Guarantee:” Implications for Insurance Coverage & Limitation of Liability Provisions

As you likely know by now, Atlanta-based Energy Ace, Inc. recently announced that it will offer what the company is calling the green building industry’s first LEED certification guarantee. According to Energy Ace CEO Wayne Robertson, the firm “can offer clients a certainty that their project is going to be certified and remove that anxiety.” The specifics of the guarantee are as follows: clients retain Energy Ace pursuant to a standard service contract under which the firm performs LEED administration, fundamental building commissioning, and energy modeling. It holds a LEED charette and, if everything is satisfactory, the contract will be amended to “guarantee” certification. That guarantee, though, actually reads in substance much more like a limitation on Energy Ace’s liability; if the project fails to earn its target level of certification (i.e. Gold or Silver) or is not certified at all, Energy Ace will refund its LEED administration fee to the owner (which is typically between 30 and 45 percent of its total fee). Although there are a number of additional facts that would be helpful in analyzing the implications of the Energy Ace initiative more comprehensively, I do think it provides us with a timely opportunity to review a number of important general construction contract and insurance coverage considerations, many of which we have considered here at GRELJ during the course of 2009.

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New Marsh Report Offers Construction Industry Feedback on Green Building Risks

It may have been lost a bit in the recent discussion over LEED 2009 decertification, but last month Marsh released a new report that solicited feedback from construction industry executives on the risks that they perceive as arising out of green design and construction across ten risk categories: brand and competitive edge or reputation, project consultants and subcontractors, education, finance, building performance, green building regulations, return on investment, standards of care and legal, supply chain and technology. To obtain the feedback, Marsh convened four forums in in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City in late 2008 and early 2009, which were attended by a total of 55 industry executives. While the executive summary to the report, which is titled “Green Building: Assessing the Risks, Feedback from the Construction Industry,” acknowledges that its findings “might be characterized as anecdotal,” I do think that the report is important to consider in the context of the types of risks that stakeholders identified as the most salient.

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Victor Schinnerer: New LEED AP Program Raising Standards of Care, Changing Risk Profiles

Victor Schinnerer’s most recent quarterly report has some interesting commentary on the increased risk that the new LEED Accredited Professional (“LEED AP”) program may be creating for professionals that participate on LEED projects. Specifically, on page 4, the report notes that the new LEED AP program, which divides LEED APs into three tiers of increasing expertise, from LEED Green Associate, to LEED AP with specialization, and up to LEED AP Fellow, “has significantly changed the value of the program and the risks to [the] program’s participants.” However, although the report acknowledges that “[m]embers of the upgraded LEED AP [Fellow] program now will face a higher standard of care for their services,” it also states that “[c]urrently this increased exposure is a manageable risk. Current claims information does not indicate a need for additional insurance premiums to cover the exposure created by the higher standard of care.” I think that this latter point is critical- as I wrote previously here at GRELJ, most professional liability insurance policies contain an exclusion for assumptions of liability that are not imposed by law (i.e., because the LEED AP Fellow designation implies that the design professional will perform at a higher level than the prevailing common law standard, the design professional may not be covered for any resulting claims of negligent design services arising out of disputed green design services). It seems to me that if the LEED AP fellow designation implies a higher standard of care than is prevalent in the industry, this type of form exclusion would come into play. Accordingly, I am very curious to see if there is any reaction from insurance industry professionals on this crucial issue.

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“Whither the Lawsuits?” A Mid-2009 Assessment of the State of Green Building Litigation

In a piece that appeared both on her blog and at Greener Buildings, my colleague Shari Shapiro opines on why, as we rapidly approach the midpoint of 2009, there remains a dearth of reported lawsuits arising out of green building projects, despite much commentary suggesting the contrary to be imminent. Ms. Shapiro suggests four reasons: (1) a relative lack of green building practices generally as compared to overall construction; (2) owners who are “too afraid” to measure building performance and are thus unable (or unwilling) to assert a claim arising out of violated green building expectations; (3) a general reluctance to engage in costly litigation given the economic downturn; and (4) the green building movement’s relative infancy. However, over the course of 2009, and notwithstanding the lack of lawsuits filed to date, there has been an explosion in commentary on green building litigation across the legal community. Accordingly, I thought Ms. Shapiro’s piece was particularly timely and worthy of some additional discussion here at GRELJ.

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USGBC: Legal Risk in Building Green Is “New Wine in Old Bottles”

In early March, USGBC released a white paper titled “The Legal Risk in Building Green: New Wine in Old Bottles?” The eight-page paper, which was presented as a panel discussion between four attorneys, concluded that “[p]erhaps surprisingly, in light of the increased attention in seminars and workshops . . . much of the discussion among the attorneys [in the paper] suggests that many of the legal theories advanced in those venues to suggest novel liability associated with building green are, instead, simply new wine in old bottles.” While the paper does not appear on the USGBC’s web site, it was circulated by individual chapters; I accessed a copy through our New York chapter’s weekly email blast and have included a link to download the paper from the USGBC-NY homepage below. I applaud USGBC for taking a critical step towards acknowledging the liability implications of green real estate development and construction, but do think it is important for attorneys practicing in this space to digest the paper’s conclusions. Although the paper does identify and discuss many important legal issues, I think that it ultimately falls short of elevating the analysis of such issues to the level necessary for legislators and stakeholders to make completely informed policy- and project-related decisions. Specifically, by suggesting that “[c]onjecture, anecdote, and even rumor swirl around recent presentations, workshops and discussions circling the question of what legal claims may be based on the design, development, and construction of sustainable buildings,” the paper seems to be an effort to sweep many of the thornier legal issues that may indeed ferment into “new wine” under the rug.

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Shaw Development, LLC Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

Shaw Development, LLC – the developer of the Captain’s Galley condominium project in Crisfield, Maryland that was the subject of the Shaw Development v. Southern Builders litigation that I have discussed extensively both here at GRELJ and over at gbNYC – recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Since the development was completed back in 2006, only 3 of the 17 units available had proceeded to contract. In late December, a foreclosure auction was to take place for the remaining units, but Shaw filed for bankruptcy protection in order to restructure and allow the pending sales to ultimately proceed. Asking prices now start at $250,000.00 for the remaining units (apparently Shaw expects to close on a number of additional contracts by the spring), though all prices are off 50 percent from when the project came on line back in 2006. When I saw the article detailing Shaw’s Chapter 11 filing, I was curious to very generally consider whether the specter of a bankruptcy filing might allow us to add an additional twist to the discussion of the Shaw Development litigation.

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Green Building Litigation Notable Omission From CoStar’s Top 10 Green Building News Stories of 2008

Andrew Burr of the CoStar Group recently listed his top ten green building stories from 2008. I thought a glaring omission from his compilation was his failure to include any discussion of either of the green building litigations that surfaced during the course of the year. Shaw Development v. Southern Builders and AHRI et al. v. City of Albuquerque may ultimately become seminal green building law cases, so I was disappointed that Burr’s list focused on mostly cosmetic, feel-good stories like “the LEED economy” and “green building trumps recession,” the latter of which has most certainly not been true in New York City over the past couple of months as a number of green projects have stalled or been canceled outright.

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