Intentional interference with contractual relations is a cause of action under tort law, upon which a defendant may be liable for damages from interference with the plaintiff’s contractual relations with a third party. Mere breach of contract is not a tort, but tortious actions independent of the contract that result in a breach can be sued on as a tort, meaning a contracting party cannot be held liable for intentional interference with contractual relations.
The elements of intentional interference with contractual relations differ by state, but common elements include
- The existence of a valid contract between the plaintiff and a third party;
- The defendant having knowledge of the contract;
- The defendant intentionally and unjustifiably inducing the third party to breach the contract;
- The occurrence of the breach resulting from the defendant’s conduct; and
For example, California’s jury instructions on intentional interference with contractual relations require:
- That there was a contract between the plaintiff and the third party;
- That the defendant knew of the contract;
- That the defendant’s conduct prevented performance or made performance more expensive or difficult;
- That the defendant intended to disrupt the performance of this contract or knew that disruption of performance was certain or substantially certain to occur;
- That the plaintiff was harmed; and
- That defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm.
Both individuals and entities like corporations can be held liable for intentional interference with contractual relations. Importantly, the requirements that a breach actually occur and that the breach results in damages mean that unsuccessful attempts to interfere with contractual relations will not be sufficient to support a cause of action.
[Last updated in June of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]