You can search a legal database and find thousands of construction disputes. If you are lucky, you find the one case that has similar facts to your dispute and the court reaches the same legal conclusion that you seek. And it’s a good story.


If you end up in court, either pursuing a construction claim or defending a breach of contract claim, your attorney should be a good story-teller. Ultimately, you will have to convince either a judge, jury or arbitrator that your side of the story is correct. One of my favorite stories in a construction dispute comes from the court in Blake Construction Co. v. C.J. Coakley Co. Inc., 431 A.2d 569 (D.C. 1981), where the court described the painful construction dispute as follows:

Except in the middle of a battlefield, nowhere must men coordinate the movement of other men and all materials in the midst of such chaos and with such limited certainty of present facts and future occurrences as in a huge construction project such as the building of this 100 million dollar hospital. Even the most painstaking planning frequently turns out to be mere conjecture and accommodation to changes must necessarily be of the rough, quick and ad hoc sort, analogous to ever-changing commands on the battlefield. Further, it is a difficult task for a court to be able to examine testimony and evidence in the quiet of a courtroom several years later concerning such confusion and then extract from them a determination of precisely when the disorder and constant readjustment, which is to be expected by any subcontractor on a jobsite, become so extreme, so debilitating and so unreasonable as to constitute a breach of contract between a contractor and a subcontractor.

Honorable mention goes to Mobil Chemical Co. v. Blount Brothers Corp., 809 F.2d 1175 (5th Cir. 1987), where the court introduced the theme of the case with the follow words: "The parties to this action somehow built a chemical plant. They have been trying to figure out who should pay for it ever since."

If you have a construction dispute, you will have to be prepared to tell you side of the story in a credible way, supported by written documentation, and you must have reasonable expectations. Too many times clients get bogged down in the "fine print" details without focusing on the big picture. To me, the details are important … but they cannot replace the overall story that must be told.

Question: What are some of your favorite construction stories?