At the end of yesterday’s webinar on Construction Documentation and Record Management, I was overwhelmed with so many good questions. Due to time constraints, I did not get a chance to answer them all. However, I promised to follow up on your inquiries … below are some of your questions.
How long should project related documents be retained? Why would the timeframe for retaining documents be less than the jurisdiction’s statute of repose?
During the webinar, I said that this would depend on two factors: (1) any written retention policy in place; and (2) any advice given by your tax professional. As one of the participants asked in the chat questions, you may want to keep documents for as long as the statute of repose period in your particular jurisdiction. The statute of repose (like a statute of limitations) cuts off the right to bring action if not pursued within the applicable period. For example, the statute of repose for construction defects in Tennessee is four years after substantial completion, whereas Virginia has a five year statute of repose. Short answer: Keep ‘em 10 years, unless the statute of repose period is longer.
Is there a legal requirement for keeping project documentation and emails?
There are a few issues that are competing here: business issues and legal issues. Purely as a matter of business management, you want proper document controls in place … for the reasons discussed in the presentation. As a legal matter, the only “legal requirement” to maintain records is to make sure you comply with any document management/retention obligations that are required by the parties’ contract (public or private).
Do these project management tips apply to either/both public or private projects?
The lessons can be applied to both public and private projects. Of course, there may be different project controls in place or record management systems required for public contracts. For example, both Wisconsin and Texas now require use of Building Information Modeling (“BIM”) on certain public projects. Also, the general legal issues may differ if you are pursing a claim against a public owner because you may have the dispute resolved by an agency or administrative judge. However, most of the tips in the presentation are applicable to both public and private contracts.
Closing out a job: What recommendations do you suggest for Data Controllers in gathering electronic records from Project Managers, superintendents? Also–must such electronic files be printed and placed in a hard file?
During the webinar, I partially answered this question. Let me try again with the following recommendations for Data Controllers:
- Have the same person do the collection.
- Make sure the collection is complete and exhaustive—i.e., don’t collect emails from everyone’s computer except the “document clerk.”
- Have a written policy about what information is to be gathered and what will be done with the information.
- Create an index to describe or categorize the information.
- Back-up or save all the information in one location, preferably a portable hard drive that can be copied and sent to your attorney. It is hard to deal with 50 CDs or DVDs than one hard drive.
- It is not necessary (nor advisable for cost reasons) to print electronic files for long term storage.
Does using an Owner supplied management tool (Site Manager) for daily diaries (i.e. with a State DOT) relieve you from expanding the level of detail in documentation?
No. Use as much detail as necessary to accurately describe what is required in the report (i.e., conditions, scope of work, installed quantities, labor, man hours, etc.).
As you highlighted the advantages of using a one environment/system between all parties involved, what is the main disadvantage of such application?
Cost … depending on the size of your company and project. If you do not have this infrastructure in place, the initial investment can be costly in terms of licensing fees, usage and management fees, and additional costs for trained personnel.
In regards to emails, what about if you have a disclaimer on the bottom that states that the info is only intended for the person addressed? Can those still be used by the other party?
Yes. No. Depends. If you are talking about emails between individual employees of the parties, then they can certainly be used as party admissions. If you are talking about emails to/from a non-party to the litigation (what may be called a third party), then you can probably use the information in the email and even the email itself if you can get around one of a few evidentiary objections.