One potential commercial litigation claim is tortious interference with business relationships. This claim not only involves interference with existing contractual relationships, but it also applies to interference with a valid business expectancy. A successful claim requires proof of each of the following elements:
- The existence of a contract or valid business relationship or expectancy;
- The defendant must have knowledge of the contract, business relationship or business expectancy;
- The defendant must have intentionally induced or caused the breach of a contractual relation or business expectancy;
- The defendant's acts are without justification; and
- The plaintiff sustained damages as a result of defendant's conduct.
Damages recoverable are the economic losses caused by the tortious interference. Lost anticipated profits must be proven with reasonable certainty based on competent proof which includes evidence of actual income and expenses from prior business operations. Damages resulting from interference involving an existing contract often do not require such evidence. Punitive damages may be recoverable when there is clear and convincing proof that defendant's conduct was outrageous because of defendant's evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others. If proven, the jury may award such sum as it believes will serve to punish the defendant and deter the defendant and others from like conduct. There are both statutory limits and federal constitutional limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.