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Suing Another Business for Tortious Interference

Competition among businesses can be healthy, but not when one company tries to undermine another’s contracts or business relationships. If you find your business has been injured by such tactics, you may be able to bring a lawsuit seeking damages for tortious interference.

Plaintiffs suing for tortious interference in Florida must prove these four elements established by state case law:

  1. There existed an advantageous business relationship or contractual relationship between the plaintiff and another party.
  2. The defendant accused of interfering knew about the contract or relationship.
  3. The defendant intentionally and unjustifiably disrupted the relationship and/or induced one party to breach the contract.
  4. The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the interference.

Tortious interference cases typically turn on the third element of proof — intention and lack of justification. A defendant’s actions may amount to interference, but that doesn’t automatically make them tortious. It’s the harmful intent behind the interference that makes the difference.

Notably, there is no need to show that the defendant acted for the purpose of achieving an economic advantage. It is enough to prove that malice — that is, ill will — was a motivating factor.

For example, Bob owns a business and enters a contract with Blank Company. Dave, one of Bob’s steady suppliers, dislikes Blank Company because of its owners’ stance on certain social issues. Soon after Bob enters the contract with Blank Company, Dave refuses to do further business with Bob. Dave knows that his business is more valuable to Bob than Blank Company’s and that his action will likely cause Bob to cancel the contract with Blank Company. In a suit for tortious interference, Blank Company may assert that Dave was leveraging his relationship with Bob to punish the company for its owners’ social views.

Once a plaintiff shows that the defendant’s actions interfered with an advantageous contractual or business relationship, the burden shifts to the defendant to show its actions were not motivated by ill will. For example, Dave can prove he terminated his relationship with Bob for a business reason unrelated to Blank Company.

Another essential element of a case is proving the tortious interference caused the plaintiff’s damages. A common defense is that some or all of the damages suffered were the result of concurring or intervening factors. For example, a defendant could claim that the plaintiff’s business relationship was unprofitable to the other party and so might have ended anyway.

As you may imagine, tortious interference cases are highly fact-specific and require a skilled contracts lawyer. An added complication is that the interference or its effects may not be immediately apparent. Although you have four years to file a lawsuit, discovering and investigating the facts may take considerable time.

H. Clay Parker, Esq. has experience handling tortious interference claims as both plaintiff and defense counsel. If you would like to speak with our Orlando business litigation attorney about your situation, please call 407-216-2504 or contact us online.

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