By Alexander Barthet

One of the many reasons parties hesitate to file a court action to recover money owed is the cost of litigation and the length of time it takes to obtain a judgment. The Florida Legislature recognized this problem and set out a workable solution providing for swift payment. There is a little-known provision within Florida’s Construction Lien Law, which allows any person who provided labor, services or furnished materials constituting a permanent improvement to real property, on a private project, to get paid the undisputed amount owed on an expedited basis. For public projects, similar relief exists under a different statute.

This provision also awards the prevailing party its reasonable costs and attorney’s fees at trial and on appeal. This last point usually catches the attention of most, because it is generally understood that you cannot recover your costs and attorney’s fees unless you record a lien or such a recovery is allowed in your contract. For those contractors and materialmen who failed to record a lien and who mistakenly omitted an attorney’s fees provision from their contracts, this prevailing party provision provides the proverbial “hammer” and the needed leverage to assert a forceful claim.

Generally, the cause of action arises once any person has received a payment for work on a project and then fails to make corresponding payments to its contractors, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, laborers or material suppliers within thirty (30) days after the date the labor, services or materials were furnished and payment was due, or within 30 days after the date payment was actually received, whichever is later. Requesting a sworn statement of account is a good first step to confirming the amounts paid. Once the complaint is filed, the Court is obligated to set a hearing upon not less than 15 days’ notice. The only defenses to this action are that payment was not actually received or that a bona fide dispute exists as to what is owed. This is further qualified by the fact that any alleged defense must be proven by competent substantial evidence before the Court at the expedited hearing. If the defenses cannot be proven at that time, then the moving party is entitled to a money judgment for the undisputed amount as well as its reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

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