411: Tortious Interference
In personal injury law, we deal with “torts” – civil wrongs that unfairly cause loss to an individual through the wrongdoing of another. Torts, these wrongdoings, can be in the form of crimes, but someone can also be liable for having committed a tort even if they have not committed a crime. A simple example is as follows: if you crash into the back of my car on the highway because you were, say, trying to read a billboard on the side of the road, that’s a tort. Now, you’re not going to be arrested and charged for banging up my bumper, but you will have still committed a crime and thus I can hold you legally liable for the damage you’ve caused.
In this blog, we’re going to explore a category of tort law known as tortious interference. Tortious interference is when someone knowingly damages another’s contractual or business relationship(s).
In the first (and more complicated) form, tortious interference of contract is when someone (in a case of this type the defendant) convinces another individual or group to breach their contract with the plaintiff; alternatively, it is when the defendant makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for the plaintiff to fulfill his or her contractual obligations.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you have a business contract with a carpenter; the deal (legal contract) says that you will pay someone $5,000 to build a small deck behind your house, and the job is to be completed within two weeks. You need that deck completed because you are hosting a big event at your home. Two days before construction is supposed to start, though, a pesky friend of the carpenter tells the carpenter that he is getting ripped off, and that he should be charging twice what he is charging you. As a result, the carpenter blows off the deal and you’re stuck without a deck. In this case, you can take the pesky friend of the carpenter to court for interfering in your contract and causing the other party to breach the contract.
The second form of tortious interference is tortious interference of business relationships. This occurs when someone intentionally communicates false claims against an individual or a business with the intent of driving away business.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you own a bakery and your high school nemesis comes in. Seeing you, he decides to go stand outside and tell passers-by that you have rats running around your bakery, when in fact you don’t. He stays outside your store all week telling this lie and, as a result, your business that week plummets. You can take that person to court for tortious interference of business relationships, because he committed a tort (defamation) with the purpose of driving away business.
Knowing about tortious interference is key, especially when you’re involved in business. A lot of times, when wronged, people shrug their shoulders and sigh, reminding themselves that life can be harsh. True, sometimes life can be harsh, but sometimes the law can protect you from undue harm.
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