At first thought, defining a breach of contract seems simple. You can define breach as breaking, and you can define contract as an agreement between two or more parties. Therefore, a breach of contract is essentially the breaking of an agreement between at least two different parties.
In order to qualify as a claim for breach of contract in a court of law, you must prove a number of qualifications. First, you need to prove that there is an enforceable contract. Thereafter, you must prove the remaining elements to a breach of contract claim.
Burden of Proof
Contract law is decided in civil courts–as opposed to criminal courts–so the elements must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. While a criminal case requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil case only requires that you prove your claim is more likely to be true than not true. In other words, there must be a 51% chance that you are right.
The evidence you present needs to be convincing, truthful, and accurate, but you only have to prove that your side of the story is more believable than not. It isn’t the amount of evidence that matters but how convincing the evidence is.
The Elements of a Breach of Contract Claim
You need to prove all four of these elements to win your case. So, the easiest thing to do is go through them and evaluate whether you can prove them all.
1. Prove the Existence of a Contract
You must prove that you have a contract. A signed piece of paper, oral agreement, or a handshake may, or may not, be enough. For the courts to determine whether your contract is valid, they must be shown there was (1) an offer, (2) an acceptance of the offer, and (3) consideration was given in exchange for accepting the offer.
- Offer: One or more of the parties must make an offer such as, “I will mow your yard for $20.” In this case, the offer is for services, i.e. mowing the lawn. If one party offers to mow the lawn, without asking for anything, this might be construed as a gift rather than a contract.
- Acceptance: The other party can agree to the terms of the offer or make a counteroffer such as, “I will let you mow my yard, but I will only pay you $15.” By making a counteroffer, the original offer was not accepted and is now off the table. The offer was replaced by the counteroffer. At this point, either party can still walk away.
- Consideration: The consideration is the benefit each party receives. In this case, the consideration is money on one side and the lawn mowing service on the other.
There are also other considerations. Arizona has enacted the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) to protect consumers by providing a general set of rules that apply in most U.S. states. The UCC applies to most transactions dealing with moveable property–i.e. not real estate–even if the property is manufactured in state A, distributed in state B, and sold in state C. This provides extra protection, especially because consumers may be naive when dealing with legal matters. Sometimes the only experience people have with courts is when they’re in trouble, but the courts recognize that every party has rights.
2. Prove That You Performed Your Obligations or That You Have a Legitimate Reason for Not Performing
In this context, performance means “substantial” performance. In other words, the details of the contract may not have been carried out exactly, but the defendant received substantially what was asked for. At that point, the defendant should be required to pay.
If the contract wasn’t performed exactly as agreed, then you may not be required to fully perform your obligations; however, generally you should not refuse to pay anything. For example, if a handyman agreed to paint your house but the color seemed off, you might ask to pay less. You generally would not be allowed to not pay anything unless the color was an extremely important term in the contract.
3. Prove the Other Party Failed to Perform Their Part of the Contract
The defendant can’t argue that payment isn’t required because of any fault on his part. For instance, if you agree to perform certain tasks and then the defendant makes it impossible for you to finish, that would not be your fault. If you substantially comply, then you are meeting your requirements.
4. Prove the Other Party’s Failure to Perform Caused Damages
This sounds straightforward because this is where you say that you didn’t receive what you were promised. Your contract should specify exactly what each party promised. Whether there is a breach of contract may depend on how well the contract was prepared. It is often helpful to have an attorney review your contracts before you enter into an agreement. If you prevail in a breach of contract case, you can also ask the court to award your attorneys’ fees and costs of filing the lawsuit.
Ask a Lawyer
If you think you may be a victim of breach of contract in Arizona, then we recommend that you immediately speak with an attorney. There is a limited amount of time to make your claim.
Cronus Law PLLC proudly serves residents, families, and businesses all across Arizona. We help our clients with many kinds of legal issues, including contract claims. Call today so we can discuss your case.