EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series
of columns written by attorneys at Lester, Loving
& Davies Law Firm in Edmond.
Q: What is tortious interference?
A: We previously have discussed the legal concept of “tort” at some length. In fact, in the opinion of my 15-year-old son, we have beaten that horse to death. We have even discussed the general idea of “interference” (as in my interference with my 15-year-old son’s right to obtain a driver’s permit on the earliest possible date). But, as best I can recall, we have never written about tortious interference. So here we go.
Tortious interference is a cause of action based on a claim that a person wrongly interfered with your personal business in some way that caused you harm. The claim is rare, or at least rarely successful. It is most often made by folk who, as children, frequently told their siblings and friends to mind their own business. Take care of yourself. Keep your little nose out of it. That kind of stuff, legally speaking.
Oklahoma law recognizes two categories of tortious interference. The first, “tortious interference with contract or business relations,” requires the plaintiff to prove: (1) that he had a contractual right or business interest that the defendant interfered with; (2) that the defendant’s interference was malicious and unjustified; and (3) that the wrongful interference damaged a property interest of the plaintiff.
The second tort, “interference with a prospective economic advantage,” seems at first glimpse identical, and it almost is. The subtle difference is in the way the interference allegedly damaged the plaintiff. While a cause of action for interference with contract or business interest seeks recovery of an actual and known property right, interference with prospective economic advantage seeks damages based on loss of a profit that was reasonably expected.
In trying to tell the difference — and it can be hard — I ponder the old saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If a scoundrel knocks a bird out of your hand, you sue him for interference with contract and claim you had a possessory right to fry up the bird. If he shoos away birds that you were about to harvest from a bush, you sue him for interference with prospective economic advantage and hope you can prove that your superior bird hunting skills were about to place those two birds in your skillet.
So what? We’ll discuss why you should care about any of this next week.
MATT HOPKINS is an attorney for Lester, Loving & Davies P.C. More information is available at lldlaw.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.