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What is breach of contract?

If you are a typical Floridian, you are party to many contracts. From your mortgage or lease agreement to your car loan to your internet and cellphone provider to your confirmations of online purchases, contracts are a normal part of daily life. If you think about it, your marriage is a contract between you and your spouse.

Well-written contracts set forth exactly what you and the other party each agrees to do in order to fulfill the contract. Consequently, written contracts are relatively easy to enforce if such action becomes necessary. Verbal contracts, on the other hand, often are difficult to enforce because there is no written record of exactly what the contract entailed and who promised to do what and when.

Types of contract breach

As FindLaw explains, there are two basic types of contract breaches: material and immaterial. As their names imply, a material breach is a serious one whereas an immaterial breach is inconsequential, having little if any effect on the overall performance of the contract. The same breach, however, may be material or immaterial depending on the specific circumstances.

For instance, suppose you contract with a local jeweler to create a custom piece of expensive jewelry for you. You and the jeweler agree on the design, the materials, the price and when the jeweler will complete the piece so that you can pick it up, pay for it and enjoy it. But suppose the jeweler does not complete the piece on time. Is this a material breach or an immaterial one? The answer depends on the circumstances.

"Time is of the essence"

If you told the jeweler that the piece is for yourself and you are more interested in quality than in timely delivery, the jeweler's missed completion date is an immaterial breach of contract. Regardless of the fact that you had to wait a few extra days to proudly wear your finely-crafted jewelry, you got what you paid for under the terms of the contract.

If, however, you told the jeweler that you intended to give the piece to someone as a special birthday gift and also told him or her the date of the birthday, now you created a time-is-of-the-essence situation. The jeweler knew how critical it was to have the piece ready for you on the promised completion date. If (s)he fails to do so, that is a material breach of contract for which you can sue him or her. This is educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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