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Business competitors may seek to undermine your position in the market by interfering with a contractual relationship that you are engaged in — by doing so, they could cause substantial damage to the health of your business, particularly if you invested a great deal of time and resources into the development of the contract. Fortunately, the law provides an actionable path to damages for those who are harmed by intentional interference with contractual relations (commonly known as tortious interference).
Basics of the Claim
Tortious interference claims can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but certain elements of the claim are nigh-universal. In order to establish tortious interference, the plaintiff will have to prove that:
- There was a valid contract between you and a third-party;
- The defendant knew of the existence of this contract;
- The defendant engaged in intentional acts so as to disrupt the contractual relationship;
- Disruption of the contractual relationship actually occurred, causing harm to the plaintiff.
As a plaintiff, there are a number of defenses that you’re likely to encounter in the tortious interference context — these defenses can be overcome with skilled advocacy and a supportive evidentiary record, though it’s important to understand the arguments on which they are based.
Lack of Knowledge
Defendants cannot be held liable for tortious interference with a contract if they are not aware that a contract exists between the plaintiff and the third-party. Lack of knowledge is a complete defense to liability.
Lack of Intention
Defendants cannot be held liable for tortious interference with a contract — even if they disrupted the contract — so long as they did not intend to cause a disruption in the contractual relationship. Intention can be difficult to ascertain, but the courts will look at whether (given the circumstances) the defendant knew that their conduct was likely to cause a disruption in the contractual relationship.
Contractual Relationship Did Not Exist
If you did not actually have a contractual relationship, then the defendant cannot be held liable for tortious interference. For example, if you were being “gifted” assets by a third-party and the defendant intentionally disrupted the gift-giving process, then they could not be held liable for tortious interference, as a gift lacks consideration and does not therefore form a contractual relationship.
No Actual Disruption
If the defendant did not cause an actual disruption in the contractual relationship, then they cannot be held liable for tortious interference. Whether there was an actual disruption is largely dependent on the harm caused — if you suffered significant losses or other harm, then it may be reasonable to assume disruption.
Contact Harvey & Binnall, PLLC to Arrange a Consultation
Harvey & Binnall, PLLC is a boutique commercial litigation firm with extensive experience serving clients in Virginia, Maryland, and the Washington D.C. metro region.
Over the years, we have represented numerous plaintiffs in disputes centering around business torts, including tortious interference with contracts, and have successfully pursued various remedies that are suitable given the circumstances of the case. Our commitment to comprehensive, detail-oriented representation makes us particularly well-equipped to handle the challenge and complexity of a business tort dispute.