Written contracts generally provide a very stable method of making promises enforceable. Reducing all promises to a single self-contained writing reduces surprises and provides a single yardstick to measure compliance. Unfortunately, many contracts today – especially construction contracts – tend to be composites; assemblages of different documents into a single contract. We’ll call this a “Compound Contract” for ease of reference. Compound Contracts have the benefit of avoiding excessive cut-and-paste work, but also have a nasty potential side effect: parties may not know what is in their contract. Thus, contractors and owners are sometimes surprised when they seek to enforce certain promises, only to learn that those promises were altered by attachments to the main contract form.
Perhaps the simplest form of Compound Contract is a one-page invoice or bid with a statement at the bottom that says, “subject to terms and conditions on reverse side.” Flip the document over, and you’ll find a clump of fine print, which may add contour, nuance, or red tape to what was otherwise a clear exchange of money for goods or services.
The more complicated Compound Contract may have “terms and conditions” from numerous other documents intended to be attached to the contract itself, and all of which alter the parties’ promises in ways large and small. Today’s Compound Contracts can be several inches thick, making substantive review difficult. Continue Reading