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Tortious Interference

Tortious interference is the unlawful interference by a third party of a contractual relationship where he/she induces breach of contract. Such a person, referred to as tortfeasor, acts illegally by convincing one of the parties to breach a contract thereby causing disruption of the performance promised under the contract. Below, Experts have answered questions relating to Tortious interference.

Can an individual sue a Human Resource representative for tortuous interference for signing the individual onto a management position where it is impossible for the individual to honor the senior manager? Also, is there a case of verbal contracts?

There is an old saying “An Oral Contract isn't worth the paper it is written on." It simply means that, while you can sue in the case of a verbal contract, the existence of such a contract is often very difficult to prove. It is just one individuals word against the other. However, if there is an oral contract and that a third party interferes with, you will certainly have a case for Tortious interference.

That said, in your situation, the management of any company is allowed to change the terms and obligations of an employee. If the senior manager overrode the original orders and forced obligations that make it impossible for you to meet the original orders, this too is within the good judgment of the company. It is not actionable.

Tortious interference requires interference from a third party. In your case, there are only two parties that are involved, those two parties being you and the company. You may sue for Breach of Contract if the company broke its contract with you in that they are not paying you as per the contract or if the change in directions affects the incentives you would have otherwise earned.

How can damages, including Punitive, be claimed in a case for Tortious interference?

The popular belief that damages can be calculated in Tortious interference cases is false. Such calculations differ from case to case and are extremely fact intensive. The damages that are easy to calculate can be property damage, lost wages or business lost. Punitive damages, much like mental anguish, pain and suffering, are harder to calculate.

For this reason, unless you have very solid proof of ill will and malicious conduct, it may not be practical to sue for Punitive damages. Juries rarely award Punitive damages unless there are very convincing reasons to do so.

Does New Jersey have specific statutes that deal with Tortious interference of contracts?

Tortious interference laws are obtained from case laws or common laws. New Jersey does not have its own laws or statutes that set forth the definitions for Tortious interference. The courts have, in general, determined that in a case of Tortious interference of a contract, following elements must be claimed and proven by the plaintiff according to the New Jersey law:
“(1) the existence of a contract;
(2) interference with that contract by someone not a party to that contract;
(3) the plaintiff must establish that the interference was done intentionally and with "malice", which is defined to mean harm that was inflicted intentionally and without justification or excuse;
(4) the plaintiff must establish that the interference caused damages to the plaintiff.”

Can an individual be held liable for damages in a tortuous interference suit to an individual (fourth party) who was going to enter into a contract with a third party who was already in contract with another individual (second party)?

In such a case, a tortfeasor (the person who interferes) will only be made liable for the contract he/she actually interfered with and not the consequences of such interference on parties not directly related to the original contract. Therefore, the fourth party cannot claim damages for the interference.

In general, remedies for tortuous interference include economic losses that are proven beyond doubt. Punitive damages are granted only if malicious intent on behalf of the defendant can be proven. Negative injunction preventing the defendant from benefitting from any contractual relationship that arose out of that interference may be granted as equitable remedies. If you wish to learn more about the laws relating to Tortious interference, it will be best to contact the Experts.

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