The Basics of Breach of Contract | NJ Business Attorney Lawrenceville

The Basics of Breach of Contract

breach of contract basics

Someone breaches a contract, a plaintiff or a defendant, and needs representation.  The rest is history…if only it were that simple. Contracts are created involving goods, services, real estate, employment and a whole host of other subjects.

What does the plaintiff have to prove?

With every breach of contract, the plaintiff must start by proving that the parties had a contract in the first place. The plaintiff must either prove that he or she did what was required by the contract or had an excuse for not performing pursuant to the contract. Lastly, it must be proven that the contract was breached by the defendant not holding up his or her end of the contract, and that the plaintiff was harmed as a result.

Details of the contract, such as what was required of each party, whether the terms were clear to both sides and whether they agreed to them, must all be established. The contract can be written or oral. However, some contracts must be in writing to be enforceable, i.e.. contracts that involve an interest in land.

What is an affirmative defense?


There are circumstances that excuse the defendant’s breach. These are called affirmative defenses. Defendants must defend themselves by raising and proving these on their own. The most common defenses include:

  • One or both parties made a mistake about the contract terms that went unrecognized.
  • The defendant agreed to the contract under duress or fraudulent terms. For example, the plaintiff employed threats, intimidation or misrepresentation.
  • The parties forged a new and entirely different contract.
  • The plaintiff waited too long to sue. This is known as the statute of limitations.
  • The contract was supposed to be in writing but was oral instead. This is known as the statute of frauds.


What are damages?

As soon as a breach of contract is proven, without excuse, there are damages to consider. The jury or judge (in a bench trial) will decide on how much a plaintiff should receive, unless the parties settle the case. More often than not, the damages are compensatory. There are mainly two types of damages, general and special. Those that are caused directly by the defendant’s breach of contract are general. Their purpose is to restore the plaintiff to the circumstances he or she was in before the breach of contract. Special damages are ones that the parties knew about or could have reasonably anticipated when the contract was formed.

Other damages include restitution and punitive damages. An example of restitution would be if a plaintiff gave a defendant a large deposit of cash before the breach, then he or she would be entitled to that money back, in addition to any other damages. Punitive damages are rare and are only awarded in the most egregious of circumstances.  Punitive damages are enhanced damages above and beyond compensatory damages.

If you are considering legal action based on a contract or may need to be defended in a breach of contract action, make an appointment with this office to further assess your matter.

The Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC

is owned and operated by H. Benjamin Sharlin and serves all of Mercer County, New Jersey and the surrounding areas. Mr. Sharlin is a bilingual Spanish-speaking attorney who vigorously represents the interests of all his clients.

Call (609) 585-0606 or click the button below to schedule an appointment

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