Construction Law

Kenneth A. Slavens, Esquire

Though the homeowner claimed she never agreed to pay an amount above the contractor’s original proposal for work by the contractor at her home, the court of appeals held that the homeowner’s requests for modifications and additional work, though not reduced to writing, coupled with the parties’ conduct, including specifically the contractor’s admonition that the requests would raise the cost of the project above the homeowner’s budget, was sufficient to create a contract. On the aspect of damages, the court of appeals that noted that proof of damages need only be that damages have been suffered, and they need not be quantified with absolute certainty. Best Buy Builders, Inc. v. Siegel, No. 98620 (Mo. App. E.D., September 24, 2013), Sullivan, J.

A contractor sought to recover a sum over and above the proposal amount because of changes and additions made by the homeowner to the scope of work. The homeowner claimed she did not agree to pay an extra amount. The trial court awarded the amount of $5,000 to the contractor plus interest.

A contractor originally submitted a proposal to the homeowner for work on her home. The work included installation of hardwood flooring, modification of the kitchen and bathroom, and other work around the home. After work started, the homeowner requested significant changes in the work. The changes were not reduced to writing. One of the owners of the construction company testified that he did not specifically tell the homeowner the cost of the changes requested. However, the owner of the construction company testified that he told the homeowner that the requested changes and additions would cause the cost of the project to be “beyond” the homeowner’s budget. The homeowner directed that the additional work be done. After the work was completed, the homeowner testified that she never agreed to pay more than the original bid amount and she believed other credits would cover the increases brought about by the changes and additions. The homeowner testified that if she had known what the final cost was going to be, she would not have agreed to do the work.

The homeowner appealed the trial court finding for the contractor. She argued that there was no proof a legally enforceable agreement had been reached and that the proof of the contractor’s damages did not meet the appropriate standard. The court of appeals held that a contractual relationship may arise without the formalities of offer and acceptance. The parties’ action supported a reasonable inference of a mutual understanding and agreement that one party would perform and the other party would compensate the performance. In this case, the homeowner requested numerous upgrades, she was advised it would increase the cost, and the homeowner still insisted that the work go forward.

On the issue of damages, the court of appeals held that an award of damages must be supported by competent and substantial evidence. The proof must be established with reasonable certainty, but absolute certainty is not required. “Certainty” means that damages have been suffered and not exact proof of the amount. The amount of damages is a matter for the fact-finder to decide.