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The Importance of Putting it in Writing

One of the most common causes of legal disputes is the failure to get an agreement, however small, in writing. Today, on the Cornerstone Law Blog, we want to tackle why it is so important to put your thoughts in writing when you and a friend or business associate are agreeing to a contract.

To begin with, it’s important to note that agreements are typically binding even if they are not in writing. Contrary to popular belief, most oral agreements are legally enforceable — if you can prove them (although there are exceptions, such as when dealing with land, with contracts for goods over a certain price, and in certain industries such as home improvement).

So why is it important to get your agreement in writing if it can be enforced even without a written document?

Why get it in writing?

  1. The most important reason is it is hard to prove what an oral agreement was for.

    Unscrupulous parties can lie about what was agreed to, and even when everyone is being honest, people’s memories tend to fade surprisingly quickly. Relying on someone else’s memory to agree with your own is a recipe for disaster in enforcing your contracts.

  2. Misunderstandings are harder to smoke out and deal with when a contract is not written down.

    It may sound funny, but there have been many lawsuits litigated over something as simple as the meaning of “here.” If someone agreed to bring a product “here,” where is “here?” If the agreement was made over the phone, one person may have assumed that “here” meant someone’s home, when in fact they meant their business some many miles away.
    Sometimes this type of disagreement can be cleared up easily, but in other cases it can be a mistake that can cost substantial sums of money.

    The point is this: without putting something in writing and taking the time to clarify simple points of misunderstanding, you can end up in a contract dispute that neither party brought about by their malice or ill will.

  3. It helps you to think about things that you weren’t really considering when you first made the contract.

    If two people get together and agree orally to a “handshake deal,” they may not be thinking about questions such as, “What happens if a pandemic shuts down the world and one side can’t deliver the product because the government won’t allow it?”

    And what happens if there is a good-faith dispute over the contract? Do the two of you first have to go and deal with it in front of a board of arbiters, or do you got straight to court? And which court? Where can you be sued? What do you do if a labor shortage or a war in another country suddenly makes it impossible to get the raw materials necessary to produce the product you’ve ordered? 

There are hundreds of potential questions that a good transactional lawyer can help you to work your way through. Even without the involvement of a lawyer, there are things you may think of as you put the agreement in writing that will help you to confront potential misunderstanding and disagreements that will cause problems down the road. 

How can you put it in writing without being overly difficult?

Sometimes business owners in particular are concerned that continually putting contracts in front of their clients or customers will cause them concern and will scare them off of working with them further. In most cases, this concern is not well-founded.

Most customers understand and even appreciate the time that you will take to put things in writing. But if they don’t or if you are concerned that the time necessary to reach a written agreement will make it difficult for you to continually get new contracts drafted, one approach is simply to put everything into an email or even a text message.

Once again, putting everything in writing will help you to confront disagreements that may arise between you and the other party. In most cases, it is best practice is to say, “Are you in agreement with all of these things?” at the end of the email (or something to that effect). Getting them to respond back will in many cases create a binding written contract between you two. 

Note: this article is not meant as legal advice.

There are specialized areas of law where a simple email or text message is not sufficient. It’s important that you talk to a lawyer about your specific concerns. But in the meantime, we hope that the tips in this article will help you in your day to day business and personal affairs to ensure that your contractual agreements are being memorialized in writing.

For help in drafting or reviewing contracts, contact Cornerstone Law Firm today.

Injunctions for Breach of Contract

Contracts are formed when two or more parties reach an agreement that involves an exchange of promises. When one party breaks their promise and fails to reform their obligation on their contract the other party to the contract often asks, “Can I seek an injunction requiring the other party to perform?”

Injunctions Court Orders Requiring Performance

An injunction is a court order that requires someone to refrain from doing something you don’t want them to do or requires them to do something that you want them to do. We’ve discussed injunctions elsewhere on the blog. However, it is important to know that injunctions are typically very difficult to get in contract cases, even in fairly extreme situations. Injunctions require an irreparable harm (that is, something other than monetary damages).

In other words, you have to be able to show a court that if the court doesn’t act, you will suffer damages that can’t be adequately compensated by money. In most situations involving a breach of contract, that is not possible. Rather, if a party breaks their promise, they can pay you the damages that theirs breach has caused you.

Damages

There are several different ways that you can measure how you have been financially damaged by someone’s failure to perform their agreement under a contract. The bottom line is the court will seek to place you in a position where you are made whole and put in the same position that you would have been in had the contract been performed. However, this doesn’t typically include repayment of your legal fees, the costs and frustration of finding a replacement party to perform the contract for you, nor anything for the sense of moral outrage that people often feel when a promise to perform under a contract is broken.

Conclusion

You may not be able to obtain an injunction regarding your contract, but this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the problem or not pursue it in court. Legal action regarding a breach of contract will often jolt the other party into action. At the very least, it will allow you to recover the damages you’ve incurred as a result of what’s happened.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our litigation attorneys can help you analyze your case. Call today to discuss your situation and let us know how we can help you. 

Breach of Contract Damages

Whenever you sign a contract, you hope that the other party will fulfill their obligations that they’ve agreed to. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. So, when someone else breaches a contract, what are your rights if you decide to pursue litigation? What will a court award you in damages at the end of a lawsuit?

Today on the Cornerstone Law Firm blog, we discuss what you’re entitled to after a breach of contract in Pennsylvania. But before we begin, we should dispel a common myth. Just because you have a contract with someone doesn’t mean you can actually make them perform it! It is very rare that a court will order “specific performance,” requiring the other party to carry out their obligations under the contract.

Instead, courts prefer to award “economic damages” (that is, money). They’ll give you money corresponding to the value that you “lost out on” under the contract. As simple as that may sound, there are actually several competing ways to calculate damages.

1. Compensatory Damages: What you lost

The primary method of determining damages under a breach of contract is compensatory damages. A court will award damages based on the amount of money that you lost pursuing the contract in order to attempt to make you whole.

breach of contract

So, let’s imagine a scenario when your company spent $400 buying products for a job and sent out workers for two days to start working on the job before the other party breached the contract. When you realized that the other party performed none of their obligations, you stopped work, reassigned your workers to other projects, and moved on with business.

If you prevail, the court will order the breaching party to pay you $400 for materials, and will attempt to calculate the value of the lost labor and time that you invested in the project. In construction contexts, you may also be able to claim some of your overhead under what is known as the Eichleay formula, which measures office overhead and other costs that often go unnoticed in contract disputes. All of this can be included, depending on the circumstances of your case.

2. Expectation Damages: What you should have earned

Another method the courts sometimes use in awarding damages under a contract is known as “expectation damages.” A court will figure out how much you expected to profit under the contract and award that amount to you. So, if you expected that you would spend $600 on a job and that you would earn $1,600 on a job, the court will award you $1,000 in damages.

Expectation damages deal with profit—and that can be hard to calculate. In addition, courts avoid awarding damages for the potential reputation boost a particular job would have been, although it can still be relevant in some instances.

breach of contract

Imagine that a dress designer agrees to design a dress for a movie star’s appearance on the red carpet. The dress designer is excited to earn $1,000 in profits on the job, but is more excited that this job will launch her into a new stratosphere of design jobs when the movie star appears on the red carpet.

If the movie star breaches without excuse, the designer will recover $1,000, but is not likely to succeed in acquiring damages for the loss of expected sales had the movie star worn her dress. Courts seek to provide what is just—and expectation damages may not include every “expectation” you had for the job. Rather, expectation damages seek to provide what you lost out on.

3. Punitive Damages: Punishing the breaching party

In some instances, a court is willing to award punitive damages. Punitive damages punish wrongdoers conduct and are meant to be a warning to others not to do the same.

However, punitive damages are very rare. In American Law, courts do not like the idea of punishing wrongdoers in a civil context. Indeed, the free market system even encourages breach of contract where the breach of contract will be more efficient for the parties involved. Punitive damages are only awarded for wanton or reckless conduct.

“Punitives,” as they are often called, require a showing that the breaching party did something far worse than make a business decision. They must have engaged in fraudulent or abusive conduct, or have acted with malice. Accordingly, punitive damages are rarely awarded. Indeed, even if a contract calls for punitive damages in the event of breach, these provisions will generally not be upheld.

4. Liquidated Damages: We’ve already agreed how much this is worth

In some instances, contracts specifically name the amount of money that the parties expect to lose if the contract is breached. Particularly in situations where there’s a complex construction job, where damages may not easily be measured, the parties will agree to write in the amount of value that each party expects to lose if the other breaches at a various stage of construction.

Courts are wary of these provisions fearing that they may become a back door punitive damages provision. Accordingly, there are a number of factors courts will analyze when looking at a liquidated damages clause in a contract to determine whether it should be upheld and applied in a specific situation.

Liquidated damages can make litigation more efficient, skipping over complex wrangling over which form of damages should be awarded. But, in some instances, they can backfire as they create an unfair incentive for a party to breach a contract at a point where the liquidated damages would actually be less than the value that the party would be losing.

Quantum Meruit: The value of what you produced

Quantum meruit is a Latin term meaning “the value that has been earned.” In other words, even in the absence of a contract, your work has created some sort of value toward the other party.

When it comes to quantum meruit, the court is acting in an equitable capacity in attempting to measure the value of what you created for someone else. Quantum meruit comes into play where a contract is illegal because it contains provisions that are statutorily unenforceable, or where the contract doesn’t help in interpreting the actual situation that has arisen.

At the end of the day, you really don’t usually want to be in a quantum meruit world. It’s usually best if you’re prevailing on pure contract grounds.

Conclusion: Damages are unique to the case

Which sort of damages should you seek in your initial complaint? How can you protect yourself if you’re quoting a job or drafting a contract, in order to make sure that a breach does not end up leaving you in financial peril?

Contact the litigation attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm. We’ve helped many clients deal with the difficulties of figuring out the appropriate measure of damages in their cases, and we can help you too. Call us today!