What is Tortious Interference?
Within the District of Columbia, tortious interference involves a third party disrupting an existing business relationship or contract between two parties. There are two main types of tortious interference —tortious interference with prospective business relations or tortious interference with contract.
If tortious interference is proven, the wronged parties are entitled to recover damages for tortious interference. If you have questions about pursuing a tortious interference claim or you’ve been served with a lawsuit, it’s important to contact a Washington DC business litigation lawyer right away.
Elements Needed to Prove Tortious Interference
In order to prevail in a tortious interference claim, the plaintiff is required to prove certain elements existed. In a tortious interference with contract claim, the elements are:
- A valid contract exists;
- The third party (defendant) was aware of the contract;
- There was an unjustified and intentional interference by the third party; and
- The plaintiff suffered damages due to the defendant’s actions.
If there is no contract, a tortious interference claim may be possible if there was an expectancy for a business contract to develop. This is more difficult to prove, and there has to be more evidence than just “hope” that the business opportunity was going to develop. There must be some type of concrete proof that demonstrates the relationship was well on its way to developing into a contractual one. With cases involving potential business relationships, there is an added element required. The plaintiff must show the interference took place through improper methods or means.
Types of Damages in Tortious Interference Claims
Since tortious interference with a contract is essentially a breach of contract claim, the damages can be varied based on each situation. The plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages, and, in some instances, they may be awarded punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are financial damages and include:
- Lost profits
- Contracts awarded, but no work was completed
- Partially completed project costs
- Loss of promised future contracts
- Damage to plaintiff’s reputation
- Permanent destruction of business relationship
In limited situations, the plaintiff may be able to prove that the defendant acted in a manner that was so repugnant and outrageous that he or she is entitled to recover punitive damages. Reckless disregard or malicious intent are two elements that could lead to an award of punitive damages.
Defenses to Tortious Interference
The law does recognize several defenses to tortious interference. One of these is qualified privilege, which means the defendant has a limited or qualified privilege to interfere in someone else’s contractual relations, but only under certain circumstances. A business has limited privilege to protect their own pre-existing financial interests or legal rights for example. Your District of Columbia business litigation attorney will advise you what defenses are available if you’ve been accused of tortious interference.
Retaining a Washington DC Business Litigation Attorney
Not every dispute that happens in business transactions will qualify as a tortious interference claim. This is one of the reasons you need a skilled attorney if you plan to pursue a claim, otherwise your case could be dismissed. Contact Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing at 202-362-5900 to schedule a consultation.