Bonds Construction Law & Legal Definition


A bond is an obligation, expressed in writing, to pay a fixed and liquidated sum on the happening or nonoccurence of a specified condition or event. The term "bond" isconditioned on the performance of duties, or other obligations undertaken by the principal obligor in the bond or collateral things to be done by the principal obligor; and indemnity and fidelity bonds or undertakings to indemnify the obligee against loss from conduct of the principal. 

Construction bonds usually involve a type ofbond called a surety bond. A surety bond is not an insurance policy. A surety bond is a guarantee, in which the surety guarantees that the contractor, called the “principal” in the bond, will perform the “obligation” stated in the bond. For example, the “obligation” stated in a bid bond is that the principal will honor its bid; the “obligation” in a performance bond is that the principal will complete the project; and the “obligation” in a payment bond is that the principal will properly pay subcontractors and suppliers. Bonds frequently state, as a “condition,” that if the principal fully performs the stated obligation, then the bond is void; otherwise the bond remains in full force and effect.

If the principal fails to perform the obligation stated in the bond, both the principal and the surety are liable on the bond, and their liability is “joint and several.” That is, either the principal or surety or both may be sued on the bond, and the entire liability may be collected from either the principal or the surety. The amount in which a bond is issued is the “penal sum,” or the “penalty amount,” of the bond. Except in a very limited set of circumstances, the penal sum or penalty amount is the upward limit of liability on the bond.

The person or firm to whom the principal and surety owe their obligation is called the “obligee.” On bid bonds, performance bonds, and payment bonds, the obligee is usually the owner. Where a subcontractor furnishes a bond, however, the obligee may be the owner or the general contractor or both. The people or firms who are entitled to sue on a bond, sometimes called “beneficiaries” of the bond, are usually defined in the language of the bond or in those state and federal statutes that require bonds on public projects.

There are several categories of surety bonds- bid bonds, performance bonds, and payment bonds.

A bid bond guarantees the owner that the principal will honor its bid and will sign all contract documents if awarded the contract. The owner is the obligee and may sue the principal and the surety to enforce the bond. If the principal refuses to honor its bid, the principal and surety are liable on the bond for any additional costs the owner incurs in hiring others to fulfill the contract. This usually is the difference in dollar amount between the low bid and the second low bid.

A performance bond guarantees the owner that the principal will complete the contract according to its terms including price and time. The owner is the obligee of a performance bond, and may sue the principal and the surety on the bond. If the principal defaults, or is terminated for default by the owner, the owner may call upon the surety to complete the contract. Many performance bonds give the surety three choices: completing the contract itself through a completion contractor; selecting a new contractor to contract directly with the owner; or allowing the owner to complete the work with the surety paying the costs. 

A payment bond guarantees the owner that subcontractors and suppliers will be paid the monies that they are due from the principal. The owner is the obligee; the “beneficiaries” of the bond are the subcontractors and suppliers. Both the obligee and the beneficiaries may sue on the bond. An owner benefits indirectly from a payment bond in that the subcontractors and suppliers are assured of payment and will continue performance. On a private project, the owner may also benefit by providing subcontractors and suppliers a substitute to a mechanics’ lien. If the principal fails to pay the subcontractors or suppliers, they may collect from the principal or surety under the payment bond, up to the penal sum of the bond. Payments under the bond will deplete the penal sum. The penal sum in a payment bond is often less than the total amount of the underlying contract, and is intended to cover anticipated subcontractor and supplier costs.