Privy Council: Petrotrin must pay contractor $4.8m

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FILE PHOTO: Petrotrin Refinery –

THE PRIVY Council has approved an award of $4.8 million for a local contractor for work done for Petrotrin on its platform and block station at its Soldado oilfield in 2004.

The company – A&A Mechanical Contractors – sued Petrotrin for $9.9 million. In 2014, Justice Ronnie Boodooingh ruled in favour of the company, but this was overturned in the Court of Appeal by Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca and Gregory Smith. They set aside the money orders and remitted aspects of the case for retrial. Then Justice of Appeal Judith Jones dissented, not agreeing with the majority ruling.

The company appealed to the Privy Council, which ruled on Thursday, ordering the payment of $4.8 million and setting aside the Appeal Court’s orders while also sending back to the High Court to consider whether interest should be awarded.

It also sent four claims by A&A Mechanical back to the court to consider for payment. The issues to be considered by the courts at all three levels involved the classification of “without prejudice” letters which the Appeal Court had found inadmissible.

In its evidence, A&A Mechanical said it tendered to provide steelworks to strengthen Petrotrin’s platform and block station for $26.8 million, It won the bid and began work in 2004. It said the contract allowed Petrotrin to instruct the company to carry out variations to the work, and it did so, but was not paid for them. A&A Mechanical said it was only paid the $26.8 contract sum and not for the “additional work.”

Petrotrin claimed these were not variations but were included in the work.

Some of these “variations” were sent back to the High Court by the Privy Council for determination.

In his decision, Boodoosingh rejected Petrotrin’s argument at A&A Mechanical’s case was statute-barred and rejected the proposition that a letter – agreeing to variations – was part of “without prejudice” negotiations. He said those were not negotiations for the settlement of a disputed claim but an integral step in finalising payments.

The Court of Appeal held that this letter was a “without prejudice” communication and was inadmissible. It also ordered the High Court to rehear the claim without the letters.

However, the Privy Council said the letters were admissible and in sending back portions of the claim also sent back for “rehearing” the evidence relatingto the meetings between the parties during negotiations for payments and the “without prejudice” letters, since the latter were correspondence forming part of the negotiating process for payment.

The Privy Council agreed with the Appeal Court’s finding on other variation claims, sending them back to the High Court to consider the evidence. The Privy Council judges held that Boodoosingh was wrong to find Petrotrin had failed to provide evidence on these claims.

A&A Mechanical was represented by Daniel Feetham, KC, Anand Ramlogan, SC, Rowan Pennington-Benton and Jared Jagroo. Petrotrin’s attorneys were Anneliese Day, KC, Prakash Deonarine and Odette Clarke.

Presiding over the appeal in the Privy Council were Lords Lloyd-Jones, Briggs, Leggatt, Burrows and Stephens.