How Do You Handle a Breach of Contract?
Our Breach of Contract Lawyers Explain Your Legal Options
Are you presently party to a contract where the other side is not living up to their side of the deal? Or perhaps worse, is the other side in a contract claiming that you are not performing according to the terms of an agreement? If either of those are the case, you may be involved in a contract dispute. Before you take any action, it’s important to first understand your options. Discuss your situation with our breach of contract lawyer in Seattle. You’ll find our business attorneys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess have the depth of experience and knowledge you need to ensure your legal rights are protected.
What Is a Contract?
A Legal Definition Can Help You Understand How to Handle a Breach of Contract
Contracts are found in a broad array of contexts. While contracts themselves may differ, they all have a few key components: the presence of an offer, the acceptance of that offer, and an exchange of consideration, meaning value such as goods, services, or money. Technically, contract law covers virtually all economic exchanges. Take, for example, the purchase of a hamburger: the restaurant is offering that hamburger for sale; you accept that offer and provide money (value) in exchange for the hamburger.
Can an Oral Contract Be Breached?
While some contracts must be in writing to be valid in Washington state, most economic exchanges are not reduced to writing. What that means is that they are largely “oral” in nature. While they aren’t as robust as a written agreement, they can have the same legal impact depending on the parties’ conduct.
Forming a valid contract establishes an enforceable legal duty between the parties. The duty that exists is the obligation that the respective parties have to perform according to the agreement’s terms. Returning to the hamburger example above, suppose the restaurant offered the hamburger for sale, and you accepted that offer and provided money to purchase the hamburger. If it didn’t provide you the hamburger, then that would be a breach of their contractual obligations. (In fact, if they gave you a hamburger that didn’t meet the mutually understood composition of the hamburger, that would be a breach as well.)
There Are Three Basic Elements to a Contract
Our Breach of Contract Lawyer Explains the Basics
- Offer: One party shows a desire to enter into a bargain. It’s in a way that another person would understand that they could accept, ending the negotiations. Offers can be actions or words.
- Acceptance: There can be negotiations between the parties. The terms of the agreement can’t be too vague to act upon. After an offer is made, the other party can accept it in a reasonable way, including starting performance. The party accepting it can back out up until the performance begins. The acceptance of the contract’s essential terms must be a “meeting of the minds” between the parties.
- Consideration: There’s an exchange of things that have value. The deal need not be objectively equal, as what matters is what the contracting individual deems to have value.
It is important to fully understand how these three elements apply to your contract. Once you do, you are better positioned to understand how to handle a breach of contract. You’ll be best protected if you rely on the legal guidance of our experienced business contract attorneys.
Do Contracts Need to Be Written to Be Enforced?
Laws Covering Breach of Contract in Washington State
There’s a saying that “the faintest of ink is better than the best of memories.” That means that while not all contracts must be in writing, it is universally better if they are. Reducing an agreement to written form clarifies the relative positions of the parties and compels them to discuss the terms thoroughly. There can also be provisions about how the contract can be changed or ended by one or both parties.
But what about those agreements that, by law, must be in writing? In Washington state, that law is called the Statute of Frauds (RCW 62A.2A-201). Under this statute, the following contracts must be in writing to be enforceable:
- The sale of goods when the purchase price is more than $500
- The purchase or sale of real estate
- Real estate brokers’ commission
- When performance can’t be completed in a year or less according to the terms of the contract
- Those relating to marriage
- Settlement agreements of legal claims
- A security agreement (a promise allowing the creditor to take your assets if you don’t pay what you owe).
If the requirements of a contract are met, other than when the Statute of Frauds applies, a contract can be oral. A binding contract can also be implied by the actions of the parties. This can happen if one party receives a benefit at the expense of the other party, and the circumstances make it unjust for the first party to retain the benefit without payment.
After a contract has been created but one or both parties aren’t doing exactly what’s in the contract, does that mean there’s a breach? No; substantial performance (complying with the material terms) can be enough.
If you’re unsure whether you’ve entered into a valid contract, speak with our breach of contract attorney in Seattle.
How Do You Claim a Breach of Contract?
What Are the Possible Defenses to a Breach of Contract?
If one party doesn’t materially perform its obligations (destroying the contract’s value), the other party no longer needs to hold up its end of the bargain, and the contract is breached. The party harmed can seek compensation for the loss or damages due to the breach from the other party. However, while obtaining compensation from the other party is the most common way a breach is remedied, a harmed party can ask for “specific performance.”
Specific performance essentially is what it sounds like — the party that breached the agreement must do what it said it was going to do. In those instances, specific performance is typically appropriate when the subject matter of the contract is unique, or when money won’t solve the breach. Thus, wealthy individuals do not obtain an advantage over certain contractual arrangements as they can simply pay for whatever damages accrue as a result of their breach.
Example of Breach of Contract
A classic example of this would be purchasing a rare artwork. If a contract forms to sell a rare piece of art, but the seller refuses to hand it over after receiving money from the purchaser, then the purchaser would likely be able to force the seller to give up ownership of the painting through specific performance. The nature of that specific performance would be the court’s compelling the selling party to give up the item to the purchasing party. The purchaser would still need to provide money exchange for that artwork, of course.
How Do You Successfully Claim a Breach of Contract?
You must prepare for the many possible defenses to a breach of contract. Defenses to such a claim could include:
- There was no offer, acceptance, or exchange of consideration (and thus a contract never really formed).
- The contract was to do something illegal, so it isn’t legally binding.
- The party didn’t understand what they did. Minors and those lacking mental competence can’t legally bind themselves in contracts. This is also described as the parties not having a “meeting of the minds” regarding the subject matter of the alleged contract.
- The contract terms are unconscionable. They’re extremely unjust or overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of the party with greater bargaining power. (Bear in mind that the law doesn’t prevent unwise, or even stupid, contracts. Thus, is not that the agreement at issue is imbalanced or skewed, but it has to be overwhelmingly so.)
- The contract is the result of fraud or coercion.
- Both parties made mistakes, so they didn’t agree to the terms. This is often called “mutual mistake.”
You will be best positioned to confront these defenses with the guidance of legal counsel. A breach of contract attorney in Washington will understand the nuances of business law that apply and can strategize to ensure you receive the best outcome possible in a legal action.
How Our Breach of Contract Attorney Can Help You with a Contract Dispute in Washington State
If you’re a party to a contract and the relationship with the other side has broken down, our breach of contract lawyer needs to …
Determine the Facts
What was the agreement? Is it a binding contract? How has the party bringing the dispute suffered? If there is a contract, was it breached?
Reach Out to the Other Party
Nearly all legal claims are resolved without going to trial. Can the problem be worked out without resorting to the legal system? Sometimes, negotiation can achieve a good outcome. Our attorneys have experience finding ways to handle a breach of contract that stays out of court. That can mean you will have lower legal costs.
We Can Help You Handle a Breach of Contract
Contract law is complex, and knowledge of what laws apply in the state of Washington will be essential to achieving the outcome you seek. There are some legal issues that must be understood if you want to bring a case. What’s involved with your dispute may not be about a legally binding contract. If you’ve had a loss due to another’s breach, you may be able to claim more damages than you realize. You may have many options to resolve the problem, like negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. Litigation is just one way to handle the dispute.
If you are considering an important contract, the other party has reneged on it, or you’ve been accused of failing to live up to it, engage experienced business attorneys in Seattle to address your situation. Don’t put your financial security at risk. The breach of contract lawyers of Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess have decades of experience in contract law. We can put our expertise to work for you. Call us at (206) 621-1110 to schedule a phone consultation.