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Tortious Interference Claims in Florida

Economic competition is at the heart of the American economy. The idea is that by competing with each other, businesses produce better, cheaper goods and services for the consumer. However, this type of economic competition is not a free for all. There are rules. One particular rule is that competitors are not allowed to improperly interfere with a business relationship that is ongoing or with one that is expected to begin. People who do meddle in such relationships and end up destroying them may be liable for the economic harm that they caused under a claim known as tortious interference.

What Tortious Interference Is

Tortious interference is a legal claim that one person can bring against another for causing someone to break a contract with them. Suppose A and B have an ongoing contract where B provides services to A. If C convinces B to break the contract, then A would have ordinary breach of contract claims against B, but A would also be able to sue C for tortious interference.

In order to prevail on a claim of tortious interference, a plaintiff must show three things:

  1. There was a business relationship between the plaintiff and a third party that the defendant was aware of;
  2. The defendant, without authorization, convinced the third party to either sever or withhold the relationship; and
  3. The third party’s ending of the relationship caused damage to the plaintiff.

Understanding these elements requires an understanding of what a business relationship is. Business relationships are most often a written contract, but they can also sometimes be oral contracts, a history of prior dealings, or even just the expectation of a future relationship. Unsurprisingly, these cases are most easily won when there is a written contract already in place, but it is not a necessity.

An Example Case

An example of tortious interference recently went up on appeal at the federal level. The case had to do with a husband and wife who both worked for St. Jude Medical Center, a company based in Minnesota. The wife was a technical service specialist, and the husband was a sales representative. The wife was hired away from St. Jude by competitor Medtronic. Once the wife switched companies, the husband’s sales dropped considerably. St. Jude sued Medtronic for tortious interference because they alleged that Medtronic had hired away the wife with the goal of interfering with the business relationship between St. Jude and the husband. The case was sent to arbitration, and decided under Florida law. The arbitrator decided that Medtronic did hire the wife away from St. Jude with the goal of disrupting St. Jude’s business relationship with the husband, and that such disruption would qualify as tortious interference. St. Jude is still pursuing tortious interference claims against the wife herself, which the federal appellate court just ruled that it was allowed to do.

Competition between rival companies is an expected part of companies, but there are rules that apply to it. If you believe that someone is improperly interfering with your business relationships, contact a Florida business litigation attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today.

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