Law | 07/22/2011
by Joseph C. Blanner, Partner at Behr, McCarter & Potter, PC
The three primary bonds that are purchased on construction projects are bid bonds, performance bonds and payment bonds. Over the years, I have spoken to contractors and owners and, in many instances, there is confusion about what each bond covers. This brief article will attempt to explain the differences.
Example 1: Bid Bond
ABC School District has put out a Request for Proposals for a new roof on their high school building. Contractors X, Y and Z submit bids to perform the work listed in the RFP. The School District requires each of the contractors to submit a bid bond with their bid. The bid bonds are purchased by the three contractors from sureties. The School District decides to accept Contractor Y's bid. Contractor Y determines that they have underbid the project and decides not to execute the contract and not to perform the work. In this instance, the School District can make a claim against the bid bond due to Contractor Y's failure to abide by its bid. Thus, a bid bond is a type of bond (often required on public construction projects, but not exclusively) designed to protect the owner in the event that the bidder refuses to enter into a contract after the contract is awarded or the bidder withdraws his bid before the award. A bid bond is an indemnity bond, which will be discussed below.
Example 2: Performance Bond
Municipality 123 retains Contractor AB to construct a municipal swimming pool at its recreation center. Contractor AB enters into a written contract and begins performing the work. During the performance of the work, Contractor AB goes out of business leaving the work about 50% finished. Additionally, some of the work that was performed was defective. Contractor AB has provided Municipality 123 with a performance bond. Municipality 123 can assert a claim against Contractor AB's performance bond for the cost to perform the unfinished work and the cost to correct the defective work. Thus, a performance bond protects the owner from the contractor's failure to perform in accordance with the terms of the contract. A performance bond does not provide protection against subcontractor or suppliers who have not been paid. A performance bond is also an indemnity bond.
Example 3: Payment Bond
Public Water District QQ has retained Contractor ZZ to install a new water tower. Because the project was over $25,000, Contractor ZZ was required by the Water District to provide a payment bond. Contractor ZZ completed the work, but failed to pay Subcontractor X for its work. Subcontractor X cannot pursue any claim against the Water District. However, Subcontractor X can assert a claim against the payment bond for the amount owed to it for its work on the project. Thus, a payment bond is designed to provide security to subcontractors and materials suppliers to ensure payment for their work, labor and/or materials on the project. A payment bond is also an indemnity bond.
Indemnity Bonds: As set forth above, bid bonds, performance bonds and payment bonds are indemnity bonds. These bonds are not insurance policies. If a covered claim arises against a commmercial general liability policy, the insurer has a contractual obligation to indemnify and defend the insured (i.e. the party obtaining the policy) and cannot seek repayment from the insured for amounts paid out as a result of a covered claim. If a claim arises and is paid out on a bid bond, performance bond or payment bond, the surety (the party issuing the bond) will look to the contractor to indemnify and defend it. So, if a claim is asserted against a contractor's bid bond, performance bond, or payment bond, the surety is going to look to the contractor to defend the lawsuit and to pay any damages.