When we enter into a contract with another party, we expect to receive the full benefit of our agreement, but that’s not always what happens.
Whether you are buying a used car or accepting a new job, there are laws in place in Texas to protect your rights. If a third party violates your contractual rights, you may have the right to bring a Texas tortious interference action.
What Is Texas Tortious Interference?
Texas tortious interference is a legal theory that is designed to protect the interests of parties in a contract from interference by third parties. There are two types of tortious interference Texas: interference with an existing contract and interference with a prospective contract.
Proving Texas Tortious Interference with an Existing Contract
To prove Texas tortious interference with an existing contract, the injured party must show that:
- There is a contractual relationship between the parties;
- The third party willfully and intentionally interfered with that contractual relationship; and
- The injured party suffered damages as a result.
Proving Texas Tortious Interference with a Prospective Contract
Proving tortious interference Texas with a prospective contract is typically more complicated and challenging than it is with an existing contract. If there is no signed agreement to establish that a relationship exists, the injured party must show that:
- There is a reasonable probability that the parties would have reached an agreement;
- There was a willful and intentional act of interference that was “independently tortious;” and
- The injured party suffered damages as a result.
What constitutes an “independently tortious” act is often the source of some confusion. A willful and intentional act is independently tortious if that act alone would give rise to a cause of action. For example, suppose you are working on a potential business deal with a new customer. The customer plans on executing a contract the following day. When a competitor learns of the deal, he makes false accusations about you or your business causing the customer to back out of the deal. The competitor’s actions are independently tortious under Texas law.
Statute of Limitations in Texas Tortious Interference Claims
The statute of limitations for tortious interference claims is two years. This means that a party injured by tortious interference must file a lawsuit within two years of when the plaintiff discovered the injury or reasonably should have discovered the nature of the injury and damages. (This is not necessarily the same date as when the contract is terminated).
Common Defenses to Texas Tortious Interference Claims
Even if a tortious interference claim appears actionable, the defendant can potentially raise one or more defenses to a lawsuit. The defendant may, for example, argue that the statute of limitations has expired and that the lawsuit should be dismissed. Unless an exception to the statute of limitations applies, the court will dismiss the suit.
Under Texas law, tortious interference claims arising under terminable-at-will contracts are actionable, with some exceptions. The Texas Supreme Court has implied that at-will employment contracts cannot be interfered with, and that such claims of interference should instead apply to business relations, not employment contracts.
Encouraging someone to terminate a contract is not necessarily tortious interference, because the contractual party has the right to end the contract at any time. For example, you may agree to attend a particular university only to later get a better offer from another school. The recruiter for the second school may encourage you to attend his school instead. The recruiter has not committed tortious interference because you have the right to attend any university that you wish.
Remedies for Texas Tortious Interference
Victims of tortious interference may be able to recover damages if they can prove that they incurred economic losses because of the interference. If you can show that the third party acted with malice, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and/or to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
Other types of damages that may be available include court costs, interest, and attorney’s fees. In Texas, no statute provides that a plaintiff may recover attorney’s fees in a tortious interference case. However, the courts may grant them if there is some equitable ground to do so.
Contact an Experienced Texas Tortious Interference Lawyer
If your contractual rights have been violated by the intentional acts of a third party, you may be entitled to relief under Texas tortious interference laws. The experienced legal team at Padua Law Firm has helped countless clients to enforce their contractual rights and receive the compensation they deserve. Please contact a member of our team today to discuss your rights and options.