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Defining “Material Breach” in Your Contract

Hopefully you have read our blog titled “State of Indiana v. IBM: Test for Determining the Materiality of a Breach of Contract.” Below are a few tips for how to define what constitutes a material breach in your contract and help ensure the court will support your termination when a material breach occurs:

  • Clearly identify the specific events that constitute a material breach and that the parties agree will allow termination of the contract without the payment of termination charges. This will not only help ensure the court enforces these provisions, but the negotiated terms will also provide the court guidance in assessing if an unlisted breach is material.
  • The contract should set forth a notice requirement prior to terminating the contract for a material breach event. The breaching party should be given the opportunity to cure the defect. By giving this notice, you will likely learn any arguments the breaching party has that its conduct does not meet the material breach standard.
  • In addition to the specific material breach provision, the contract should also contain general breach of contract terms. You will want to include operational standards that must be met in measuring performance.
  • When defining the standards of performance, avoid using ambiguous terms. Common examples of terms to avoid include “industry standard,” “appropriate,” or “best practice.”
  • To ensure that the service levels are important, you must have meaningful service level credits. If the service level credits are minimal, it minimizes the significance of missed service levels. You should also avoid using service level credits as liquidated damages. You don’t want the other party or the court to view payment of these “liquidated damages” as a valid alternative to performing.
  • Set forth service levels that allow you the ability to terminate the contract if performance falls below a defined standard.

If you need assistance defining a material breach in your agreements or you have questions regarding your company’s contractual needs, contact Leslie S. Marell for help. We serve as general counsel to clients who do not require, or choose not to employ, a full-time lawyer in-house. Call today to schedule your initial consultation.

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