Womble Carlyle Construction Industry Blog

Following the construction industry and related legal topics in the United States.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How do you measure damages when a construction blunder saves an owner $200 million?

A recent story out of Las Vegas, covered in the NY Times, poses an interesting question for construction and real estate lawyers ---- what would be the measure of damages for defective construction, the result of which is estimated to save the owner at least $200 million?

The Harmon hotel tower, part of MGM Mirage's acclaimed $9 billion development called the CityCenter, had been designed as a 48-story tower, the upper 20 floors to be luxury condominiums. But recently it was discovered that the rebar installed in the concrete beams in the first 15 stories already constructed had been positioned incorrectly, and could not safely support a 48-story tower. Correcting the problem would involve extensive and very expensive demolition and rebuilding.

So MGM Mirage made the decision to top out the building at 28 stories, and not build out the 200 condo units planned for the upper stories --- resulting in a savings estimated at $200 million. And also not being stuck with a lot of unsold condos in the very soft Las Vegas market. The chairman of MGM Mirage said "It takes pressure off of selling more condominiums; it takes pressure off of occupying more rooms."

The measure of damages for defective construction is normally the cost to repair the defective work. However, if the cost to repair is so enormous relative to the value of the structure that it would constitute economic waste to fix it ("economic waste" is a term of art with varying meanings depending on the facts and circumstances), then the measure of damages is usually the diminution in value of the structure.

Under these facts and circumstances, it appears there is a good argument that demolishing and rebuilding the existing 28 stories correctly would constitute economic waste, and that the appropriate measure of damages is the diminution in value of the hotel tower. But this appears to present a problem. In the absence of any obvious market for condos in Las Vegas these days, has the value of the building really been diminished at all?

It would seem not.

But there is something else to consider. The Harmon will be the closest building to the Strip in the CityCenter, so the shortening of the tower is going to change how the development looks. It seems that a lot of work has become necessary to figure out what the new skyline of the CityCenter should be and to satisfy City government on that score. Maybe that's the way to approach the damages calculation.

To read the articles in the NY Times, click here and here. (This blog was published by Karen Carey, a member of Womble Carlyle's Real Estate Development and Construction Law practice groups.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Employee Free Choice Act Reintroduced; Battle Lines Are Already Drawn

On Tuesday, March 10, George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Reform Committee, introduced the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 1409). Asserting that the bill would “give workers the ability to stand up for themselves” and heralding the effort as a key component of economic recovery, Chairman Miller insisted the EFCA would restore employee rights. Co-sponsor Tom Harkin (D-IA) explained, “just as the National Labor Relations Act, the 40-hour week and the minimum wage helped to pull us out of the Great Depression and into a period of unprecedented prosperity, so too will the Employee Free Choice Act help reinvigorate our economy.”

The bill, essentially the same as one passed by the House but killed in the Senate two years ago, faces a stiff fight. Although President Obama has pledged his support to the legislation, employer organizations have mobilized a well-coordinated campaign to highlight what they perceive as significant weaknesses in the Act, also countering with their own proposal, the Secret Ballot Protection Act. To make matters even more confusing, on March 11 Joe Sestak (D-PA) proffered yet another alternative, the National Labor Relations Moderation Act (H.R. 1355), which Congressman Sestak describes as a “middle ground” compromise to preclude a divisive confrontation. As the rhetoric on either side escalates, examination of the key features of EFCA is essential.

To read about the key features of EFCA, continue here.

(This entry was published by Charlie Edwards, a member of the firm's employment law practice group.)