CBS San Francisco reported last week that a construction crew unearthed human remains while installing new plumbing lines in San Carlos, California.  Construction was halted while sheriff’s detectives and investigators from the San Mateo County coroner’s office arrived and began an investigation.  Has this ever happened at one of your sites?

If you find bones or other archeological artifacts during excavation and construction, here are a few tips on what you should do:

  • Stop work.  Many contract documents, including the AIA 201 (2007), require the contractor to "immediately suspend" the operations upon the discovery of human remains or other archeological findings.  Even if your contract does not address this situation, you should stop work to properly analyze the situation.
  • Call others.  This includes the owner, the architect/engineer of record, and local police.  Check your state’s law to see whether you have an obligation to notify any other public authority, such as Tennessee Code section 11-6-107, which requires you to notify the coroner or medical examiner upon the discovery of human remains during construction. 
  • Assess options.  Depending on your jurisdiction, you may be required to rebury the remains pursuant to a local statute.  For example, if you have excavated a cemetery or other historical burial site, you will be required to rebury the remains by using either a funeral home or an archeological group. 
  • Preserve claims.  As always, the parties’ contract should address risks such as "bones" found on the construction site.  Generally, the owner of the site is required to take action to continue the work and resolve the problem.  The contractor may be entitled to additional time and money for the impact of the discovery and remediation efforts.

In the situation above, the police and coroner’s officials will continue to investigate to determine whether any crime was committed.  At the conclusion of the investigation, the property owner and contractors can continue their work.

Image: Hyoung Chang