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What You Need to Know About Tortious Interference

Duwel Law April 17, 2024

Business competitors meeting and looking each other with hateIn Ohio, as in many states, tortious interference is recognized as a legal claim that arises when one party unlawfully interferes with the contractual or business relationships of another party. 

Understanding the foundations of tortious interference can help you recognize potential issues and seek appropriate legal assistance when necessary. Here’s what everyone should know. 

Defining Tortious Interference

Tortious interference happens when a third party interferes with a contract or a business relationship between two other parties, causing one of them to suffer damages. There are mainly two types: 

  • Interference with contractual relations: This involves an existing contract. 

  • Interference with business relations: This pertains to business relationships that may not necessarily be bound by a contract. 

To better understand tortious interference, consider the following examples: 

  • Example of Interference With Contractual Relations: Imagine a scenario where Company A has a contract with Company B to supply materials exclusively for two years. Company C, aware of this contract, offers Company B a significantly higher price for the same materials, enticing Company B to break their existing contract with Company A. This act by Company C could be considered tortious interference with contractual relations since it intentionally disrupts the agreed terms between Company A and B. 

  • Example of Interference With Business Relations: For interference with business relations, consider a local bakery that has been supplying bread to a nearby restaurant for several years without a formal contract. If another bakery learns of this relationship and spreads false rumors about the quality of the first bakery’s bread, causing the restaurant to end its purchasing relationship, this could be seen as tortious interference with business relations. The actions of the rival bakery damaged the longstanding business relationship through deceitful means. 

What Constitutes Tortious Interference Under Ohio Law?

While the specifics can vary depending on the case and the context, Ohio law typically outlines several key elements that must be present for a claim of tortious interference to succeed. These elements include: 

  1. Existence of a Contract or Business Relationship: There must be a valid contract or a business relationship between the aggrieved party and a third party. This relationship must be provable and recognized as legitimate under the law. 

  1. Knowledge of the Contract or Relationship by the Interfering (Wrongdoing) Party: The party accused of interference must've had knowledge of the contract or business relationship. This knowledge can be actual or presumed based on the circumstances. 

  1. Intentional Interference: The interfering party must've intentionally acted to disrupt the contract or relationship. This intentionality doesn't necessarily mean malice; it means the actions were deliberate rather than accidental. 

  1. Lack of Justification for the Interference: The interfering party must not have had a valid reason or justification for their actions. This can include personal gain, malice towards one of the parties involved, or other illegal motives. 

  1. Damages: The party bringing the claim must've suffered actual damages as a result of the interference. These damages are often economic but can include other types of recognized harm. 

It's important to note that these elements can be complex and subject to interpretation by the courts. Furthermore, certain defenses might be available to those accused of tortious interference, such as claiming their actions were justified or that they were exercising their own legal rights. 

Given the complexity of tortious interference claims, it's highly advisable for individuals or businesses involved in such disputes to seek legal counsel. At Duwel Law, located in Dayton, Ohio, and serving clients throughout Montgomery County, Miami County, Greene County, Darke County, and Warren County, we understand the intricacies of these cases.  

Our approach is tailored to protect your interests and pursue the most favorable outcome possible. If you believe you have a case involving tortious interference, or if you're facing accusations of such conduct, we encourage you to reach out to us for guidance and support. 

Are You Being Sued for Tortious Interference? Here Are Some Possible Defenses

Facing a lawsuit for tortious interference can be a daunting and complex process. However, there are several defenses that can be used to contest such claims. It's crucial to understand these potential defenses to prepare an effective legal strategy. Here are some common defenses against accusations of tortious interference: 

  1. Privilege or Immunity: In certain circumstances, the actions taken by the accused may be protected under the law due to privilege or immunity. For example, actions taken in the course of one's professional duties or for the purpose of reporting wrongful activities may be exempt. 

  2. Absence of Intent: Since tortious interference requires intentional interference, proving that the actions were accidental or incidental can serve as a defense. This would involve demonstrating a lack of deliberate intent to cause harm to the contractual or business relationship. 

  3. Legitimate Business Competition: Engaging in fair and legal competitive practices is not considered tortious interference. A defense can be made by showing that any actions taken were part of normal business competition and were aimed at improving one's own business rather than causing harm to others. 

  4. Lack of Causation or Damages: For a tortious interference claim to succeed, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's actions directly caused harm. If it can be shown that the alleged interference did not result in damage, or that damages were caused by unrelated factors, this can serve as a strong defense. 

  5. Justification or Rightful Behavior: In some cases, the defendant may argue that their actions were justified or that they had a legitimate right to engage in the disputed conduct. This could include situations where the defendant was exercising a legal right or acting to protect a public interest. 

  6. Consent of the Plaintiff: If the party alleging harm consented to or approved of the actions taken by the defendant at the time, this can negate claims of tortious interference. 

It's important to carefully consider the specifics of each case, as the applicability and effectiveness of these defenses can vary based on the facts and circumstances involved. Legal representation by experienced attorneys, such as those at Duwel Law, is essential in navigating the complexities of tortious interference claims and formulating a robust defense strategy. 

Legal Consequences

The consequences for those found guilty of tortious interference can be severe, including compensatory damages for economic losses suffered by the victim.  

In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. These refer to additional damages intended as a form of punishment and deterrence for the wrongdoing party. Additionally, injunctive relief may be granted to stop the interfering behavior from continuing. 

How Long Do Tortious Interference Cases Take to Resolve?

The duration of tortious interference cases can greatly vary, ranging from a few months to several years, depending on multiple factors. Critical among these is the complexity of the case, the amount of evidence to be gathered and analyzed, and the willingness of parties to reach a settlement out of court. 

Furthermore, court schedules and availability can also significantly impact the timeline. Parties involved in such litigation need to prepare for a potentially lengthy process, understanding that each case's unique circumstances will influence the overall timeframe. 

Seek Legal Help for Prevention and Protection

While it's challenging to completely prevent tortious interference, businesses can take steps to protect themselves, including: 

  • Drafting clear and strong contracts. 

  • Maintaining good communication with business partners. 

  • Being vigilant about the actions of competitors and third parties. 

Due to the complexity of tortious interference claims, it's advisable to seek legal assistance. At Duwel Law, serving Dayton, Ohio, and surrounding counties, we understand the nuances of these cases. Our team, including Kyle C. Duwel and David M. Duwel, is here to provide guidance and representation to navigate the challenges of tortious interference.  

We aim to protect your business interests and pursue any necessary legal action to address and rectify instances of wrongful interference. 

If you believe you're facing a situation involving tortious interference, don't hesitate to reach out for professional legal advice.