Under Missouri and Kansas law, one who maliciously or without justification induces a person to breach his contract with another may be held responsible to the latter for damages resulting from such breach. The term maliciously alludes to intentionally doing a harmful act without justification or excuse and does not necessarily include actual malice. The right to perform a contract and reap the profits are property rights entitling each party to the fulfillment of the contract by performance. And the intentional interference with the contractual relations without just cause as to affect a breach of contract is a wrong for which the wrongdoer may be accountable in damages.
Elements of a Tortious Interference Claim
While tortious interference with a contract and tortious interference with business expectancy are distinct causes of action, courts in Missouri and Kansas generally give the two identical treatment. The elements of a claim of tortious interference are:
- A contract or valid business expectancy
- Defendant’s knowledge of the contract or relationship
- An intentional interference by the defendant inducing or causing a breach of the contract or relationship.
- Absence of justification
An action for tortious interference will only lie against a third party. Thus, a party to a contract cannot tortiously interfere with his own contract. An agent of a party to a contract will be considered a party to the contract for purposes of tortious interference. A defendant may be justified in interfering with a contract or expectancy when the defendant has a legitimate economic interest.
In the absence of improper means, the principle of freedom of competition provides protection for one’s effort to take business from another. The statute of limitations for most tortious interference claims is five years in Missouri. R.S.Mo. § 516.120. In Kansas, on the other hand, the statute of limitations is only two years. See K.S.A. § 60-513(a). The caveat for both is that when the underlying act is defamatory, however, the one-year statute of limitations may apply. In Kansas, the statute begins to run when the act giving rise to the cause of action first causes substantial injury or the injury becomes reasonably ascertainable to the injured party.
Punitive damages may be awarded in a tortious interference case when the plaintiff presents clear and convincing evidence from which a jury could conclude that the defendant had an evil motive.
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