THE INDEPENDENT TORT DOCTRINE (AND ITS IMPORTANCE)

A non-construction raises an important legal principle.  Here it is because it applies to construction disputes.  It actually applies to many business-type disputes.  It is based on what is widely referred to as the independent tort doctrine:

Florida law does not allow a party damaged by a breach of contract to recover exactly the same contract damages via a tort claim. “It is a fundamental, long-standing common law principle that a plaintiff may not recover in tort for a contract dispute unless the tort is independent of any breach of contract.  A plaintiff bringing both a breach of contract and a tort claim must allege, in addition to the breach of contract, “some other conduct amounting to an independent tort.” 

Bedoyan v. Samra, 47 Fla.L.Weekly D1955a (Fla. 3d 2022) (internal citations omitted).

The reason this principle–the independent tort doctrine–is important is because it has become common for parties to assert many causes of action against another party in the same lawsuit.  Oftentimes, they deal with the SAME damages and underlying conduct.  Sometimes, it is the “throw everything but the kitchen sink” approach.  Thus, a party may assert a contract claim (or seek contractual damages) in conjunction with numerous tort claims (e.g., negligence, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, etc.).  Yet, when push comes to shove, the damages sought are no different than the contractual damages, i.e., it is all the same damages based on the same conduct.  The damages do not derive from an independent tort (e.g, separate conduct) unrelated to a contractual breach, or contractual damages.

This case of Bedoyan is an example. Here, there was a partnership dispute that was tried. The plaintiff claimed the defendant breached their oral partnership agreement and breached fiduciary duties. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim. The plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim “was not independent from his allegation of breach of contract; the same conduct gave rise to both. As such, there are no damages for breach of fiduciary duty separate and apart from the breach of the contract, and the trial court correctly directed a verdict against [plaintiff] on this issue.”  Bedoyan, supra.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

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