Under Florida law, third parties are barred from intentionally interfering in the contractual affairs or business relationships of two other parties. This prohibition is premised on the idea that parties have a protectable interest in their business relationships under Florida law, and any interference with these relationships may support a business tort claim - specifically, the cause of action is known in Florida as tortious interference.
Tortious interference can take many forms in the business world. For instance, Florida case law recognizes causes of action for tortious interference with business relations, interference with prospective business relationship and even tortious interference with contract - all of which can be proven in very similar ways.
Elements of tortious interference
There are generally four basic elements that a business must be able to show in order to prove a cause of action for tortious interference against a third party in Florida, and these include:
- The existence of a business relationship in which the plaintiff has legal rights
- The defendant's knowledge of this relationship
- The defendant's intentional, and unjustified, interference with this relationship
- The plaintiff suffers damages because of the interference
One of the most common ways of proving a business relationship is the existence of an enforceable contract, but a contract is not required as long as the plaintiff can show they have any actual or prospective legal rights under the business relationship.
Also, a plaintiff not only needs to be able to show that the interference was direct and intentional but also unjustified. To be considered unjustified, the interference must be performed by a third party - meaning one contracting party generally cannot file a tortious interference claim against the other contracting party.
It is important to note that there are various defenses to tortious interference claims in Florida, with "privilege" being one of the more notable defenses. For example, certain privileges permit a party to interfere with a business relationship - such as the privilege afforded to agents of one of the contracting parties when the agent is providing honest advice. This type of situation can arise when corporate counsel advises their client in good faith regarding business decisions.
However, the privilege defense is just one of many against tortious interference claims. Because of the numerous and complex legal intricacies surrounding Florida tortious interference actions, it is often advisable to speak with a knowledgeable tortious interference attorney if you believe a third party has wrongfully interfered in your business relationships or contracts.