Effective Dispute Resolution Strategies in Construction Contracts

By AIA Contract Documents

February 27, 2024

Disputes are not uncommon in the construction industry, given the complexity of, and the multitude of stakeholders involved in, any given project. Having a clearly defined and effective dispute resolution strategy within construction contracts can save parties significant time and expense. This article explores dispute resolution mechanisms and how they can be strategically implemented in construction contracts.

Dispute resolution clauses in construction contracts are designed to provide a clear roadmap for parties to follow when disagreements arise. The goal is to resolve conflicts efficiently, maintain professional relationships, and keep the project on track.

Common construction dispute resolution strategies and how they benefit general contractors:

  1. Negotiation
  2. Mediation
  3. Adjudication
  4. Construction Arbitration
  5. Tiered Dispute Resolution
  6. Contract Implementation

Negotiation as a First Step

Negotiation is the simplest form of dispute resolution. It involves the disputing parties coming together to discuss the issue at hand and attempting to reach a resolution without the need for third-party intervention. This method is cost-effective and less time-consuming, and helps maintain the business relationship between the parties.


Mediation involves an independent third party who facilitates a discussion between the disputing parties to help them reach an agreement. The mediator does not make a decision for the parties but helps them communicate more effectively. The mediator may also help identify strengths or weaknesses in the positions taken by the parties, or provide an objective assessment of the claims and defenses. This process is confidential, non-binding, and allows for creative solutions that a court may not provide. Resolutions reached in mediation are usually memorialized in, and become enforceable as, settlement agreements.

Adjudication for Quick Initial Resolution

Often the parties employ a dispute resolution process where an initial adjudicator is appointed to make a decision that is  binding until the dispute is finally resolved through a binding dispute resolution process like arbitration or litigation, or by agreement. This is particularly useful for resolving disputes quickly so that the project can proceed. Terms sometimes associated with quick initial resolution include Initial Decision Maker, Dispute Review Board, and Project Neutral.

Construction Arbitration to Avoid Litigation

Construction arbitration is a private process where the disputing parties agree to have one or more arbitrators make a decision regarding the dispute. Unlike mediation, the arbitrator’s decision is usually binding. This process is less formal than litigation, can be faster, and allows the parties to choose an arbitrator or arbitrators with specific expertise in the subject matter in dispute.

Construction Litigation for Formal Resolution

Construction litigation is the traditional route for binding dispute resolution. It involves taking the dispute to court where a judge or jury makes a final, binding decision. This process is public and can be lengthy and expensive.

Contractual Tiered Dispute Resolution Clauses

A tiered dispute resolution clause combines various methods, starting from the least formal to the most formal. For example, a contract may require parties to begin with negotiation, move to mediation, and, as a last resort, proceed to arbitration or litigation. This allows for flexibility and the possibility of resolving disputes at an early stage.

Most construction contracts in the AIA Contract Documents  program include a tiered dispute resolution process where claims are first submitted to an initial decision maker (IDM) for a quick initial adjudication, if the parties are not satisfied with the ruling of the IDM, they proceed to mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, they proceed to Arbitration, or Litigation, or some other binding dispute resolution process that selected by the parties at the time of contracting.

Effective Implementation in Contracts

General contractors should work with legal counsel to tailor dispute resolution clauses to the specifics of the contract and the nature of the project. It’s crucial to consider the potential risks and to choose the most appropriate method that balances time, cost, and the relationships between parties.


Disputes in construction projects can be effectively resolved using well-considered dispute resolution strategies written into the construction contracts. By understanding and utilizing negotiation, mediation, adjudication, arbitration, and litigation in a strategic manner, general contractors can protect their interests and maintain project momentum. Implementing tiered dispute resolution clauses offers a structured and progressive approach to handling conflicts, preserving relationships, and ensuring the successful completion of projects.

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AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.