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When Do the Actions or Inactions of a Contractor Lead to a Breach of Duty?

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In Dahlgren v. Brooks, No. A-16-1215 (Neb. Ct. App. 2017) the Nebraska Court of Appeals took on this question in a breach of contract case.

Gregg Dahlgren and Kristen Dahlgren (“Dahlgrens”) filed a complaint against Dennis Brooks (“Brooks”) for breach of contract and negligence stemming from the construction of a residential swimming pool and spa. Brooks filed a counterclaim against the Dahlgrens, alleging breach of contract or, in the alternative, unjust enrichment. The district court for Buffalo County found for the Dahlgrens, awarding them $40,770.02 in damages. On appeal, Brooks alleges the district court erred in entering judgment against him and for the Dahlgrens and in failing to entering judgment in Brooks’ favor on his counterclaim. He also alleges the court erred in its calculation of damages.

Brooks argues that the district court erred in finding Brooks breached his contract with the Dahlgrens. The Dahlgrens and Brooks agree that they formed a contract for Brooks’ construction and installation of a pool and spa at the Dahlgrens’ residence. Although the written contract did not include a specific term for the length of time, it did include price, services, and equipment the contract authorized Brooks to purchase. Brooks says that because his contract with the Dahlgrens contained no time limitations, failing to complete the pool by late July of 2014 did not result in his breach of the contract. He claims the Dahlgrens terminated the contract by refusing to pay him.

Contract actions that arise from the breach of a duty an agreement imposes on a defendant protect a plaintiff’s right to performance of that defendant’s promises. Under Nebraska law, with each contract comes a duty to perform with care, skill, reasonable expediency, and faithfulness the thing agreed to be done. From the review of the record in a light most favorable to the Dahlgrens, Brooks breached this duty. Although the Dahlgrens fully paid the amount of the contract, Brooks left the Dahlgrens’ pool and spa unfinished in June. When he left the country for a vacation in May, Brooks made no efforts to protect his work from foreseeable weather damage.

Brooks further breached his duty of care by not completing the job with expediency. Although the contract contained no completion date, Brooks’ performance was not “reasonably expedient.” When the Dahlgrens discussed the pool and spa construction with Brooks in April of 2014, they anticipated Brooks would complete the installation by June of the same year. By the middle of July, after several delays largely caused by Brooks, he had not finished constructing the pool and spa. He never did. The district court’s factual findings were not clearly wrong. After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Dahlgrens, this Court finds no error in the court’s determination that Brooks breached the contract.

The Metier Law Firm is committed to assisting people with personal injury claims throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and we frequently serve as co-counsel to law firms nationwide. Tom Metier recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Colorado

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