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Defenses to Tortious Interference with Contract Claims

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In Florida, when two parties have a contract to do some kind of business with each other, it is illegal to interfere with that contract. Doing that can end up getting you sued for what is known as tortious interference with the contract.

The Elements of the Tort

Interrupting, disrupting, or inducing or causing another party to reach an agreement with another party when you know that a contractual relationship exists between them, is called tortious interference with contract.

But for many business owners, tortious interference with contracts can be confusing, because it borders on legitimate competitive activity.

So, for example, if your competitor has a relationship with a great product supplier, and you want that supplier for your business, it seems like just good old capitalism to do what you can to get that supplier to leave your competitor, and do business with you instead.

So how do you know when you are illegally interfering with someone else’s contracts as opposed to just engaging in good competition?

Expectation but No Contract

There are defenses to tortious interference of contract.

One defense is to say that the other party (the party alleging you interfered with their contract) didn’t actually have a real contract that you allegedly interfered with—they just had some expectation of doing business in the future.

You can legally interfere with and disrupt another business’ expectation of future business, when that expectation doesn’t rise to the level of an actual contract.

So, in our example, if the supplier and your competitor traditionally did business together, and have done so throughout the years, but there is no actual contract obligating either side to do business with the other, there is likely merely an expectation of future business—not an actual contract.

You also must show that in obtaining the business or taking away the relationship between your competitor and some third party, that you didn’t do anything illegal, like intimidate, or coerce, or threaten. In other words, you have to just use good business to lure someone away from your competitors.

Protecting Interests

You also can show, in some cases, that your actions were only done to protect your interests, if you have an objectively good faith belief that the contract between the other parties, if carried out, would harm your business. This can’t just be financial harm, like you can’t make enough money or do business.

There must be some legal harm, like misappropriation of your trade secrets, or that the contract for some reason is doing or conspiring to do something illegal towards you.

First Amendment

There is also a limited first amendment protection when the tortious interference allegations are based merely on spoken or written words. In some cases, what you say that could be interpreted as trying to interfere with a contract, is simply expressing an opinion in good faith protected by the first amendment.

Do you have a tortious interference with a contract problem or case? Call the West Palm Beach business law attorneys at Pike & Lustig today for help with your businesses litigation needs.


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