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Understanding the various types of breach of contract

Contracts can be breached in a multitude of ways, large and small. If a task that a party to the contract agreed to complete isn't finished on time, as expected or at all, that could constitute a breach of contract.

Let's look at four key types of breaches:

  • A minor breach, also known as an impartial breach, is when a nonessential part of an obligation isn't completed.
  • A material breach, also called a total breach, is when a large or essential part of the obligation isn't carried out. People are more likely to go to court over a material breach that can't be resolved with the other party than they are for a minor breach.
  • If a breach is determined to be fundamental, the other party can take the breaching party to court to end the contract and seek damages.
  • An anticipatory breach occurs when one party warns the other (either verbally or in writing) that a breach of the contract is going to occur.

Note that if you seek various types of damages for breach of contract, they don't have to be monetary. A plaintiff may simply ask to cancel the contract -- particularly if no work has yet been done.

A plaintiff may choose to ask for the money back that they paid the breaching party. They may choose to ask the breaching party to do the work they failed to do or to redo work that was unacceptable.

They may seek punitive damages if they contend the breaching party misrepresented themselves, engaged in fraud or caused aggravation and upset.

It's wise to outline in a contract what would constitute a breach, under what circumstances either party could cancel the contract and what kind of damages can be sought by either party if the contract is breached. An experienced attorney can help you draw up a contract that can clarify each party's obligations and help prevent unintentional breaches.

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