This is the fourth article of a five-part series exploring construction information management. This article looks at the documentation of meetings and how important meeting minutes are when dispute/claim situations arise.
Construction management personnel invariably feel as though much of their time is spent in an endless cycle of meetings. No question face-to-face meetings are necessary in building teamwork, fostering open dialogue, troubleshooting problems and resolving issues: all elemental keys to a successful project.
If a project devolves into something less than successful in the troubleshooting and resolving of issues and ends up in a dispute or claims situation, the manner in which the issues were documented in meeting minutes can be important.
In Part 1 of this series, how information is captured on daily site diaries was discussed. As with diaries, minutes of meetings can sometimes be overlooked for the significant role they can play in analyzing and substantiating claims. Issues often get discussed in meetings and recorded in minutes that are not documented elsewhere. A party may give verbal notice of a problem, question, change, extra or delay event at a meeting and may fail to follow-up with a written notice within the time period specified in the contract, relying on the fact that it was raised and discussed in a meeting.
The minutes of meetings carry weight in a dispute and/or claims situation as providing an objective record of what was discussed and agreed by the parties, as well as a record of work progress and issues that occurred during the course of the project. It’s therefore important that attendees ensure that their input, issues raised and any agreements and action items are accurately portrayed in the final record.
While the party authoring the official minutes is generally agreed to early on in the project, it is best practice for all attendees to take their own notes. Discrepancies between what was discussed and what was recorded in the minutes can occur. An author uses their best efforts to capture issues and action items as they are discussed, however it can happen that something significant to one party may not have been captured accurately or in fact at all. Sometimes the way in which minutes are written can make them appear to be skewed, or conversely, can be overly objective and miss capturing the significance of a party giving notice of a problem, change or delay event.
Attendees should pay particular attention to any "fine print" at the end of the minutes that stipulates a limited time period to register any errors or omissions with the written record; the clause typically states that failing any objection within X amount of days, the "minutes shall be deemed to be accurate as written". If you find inaccuracies, go on the record in writing to request the appropriate correction and include a suggested wording to the specific item that reflects your recollection or your notes from the meeting, even if your requested corrections may not end up being incorporated in the final minutes.
Also, be sure to follow up on any unresolved issues, changes, delays, etc. with written notices as per the terms of the contract; having it recorded in the minutes is generally not sufficient to fulfil notice provisions.
Attendees should also be sure to download and retain a copy of all minutes of meetings, even if they are kept on a project management database. Don’t assume that you will always be able to have access to a database controlled by another party. Also, rather than have supervisory personnel retain minutes on their personal computers, designate a file folder in your company project directory for all minutes of meetings and ensure that it is kept up-to-date. You might be surprised at how this important document is overlooked, and in a dispute situation trying to gain access to them or obtain historical copies can be difficult.
As illustrated in the previous articles of this series, being proactive in keeping detailed project records is good practice, whether you anticipate claims on the project or not. If you do find yourself on a project that ends up with disputes, successful resolution often depends on the quality of information captured during the work.
Adele Wojtowicz, FICCP, CEC, principal of ProEdge, is a construction claims consultant and has been working in the construction industry for over 32 years. For more information visit www.proedgecs.com. Send comments and Industry Perspectives column ideas to email@example.com.
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