What Evidence is Admissible in a Contract Dispute?
March 27, 2022
Most of us have at least some experience with contracts. After all, that’s how business is done in today’s world. We rely on contracts to start a business, lease office space, buy homes, hire employees, and secure services from third-party vendors. Hopefully, these contracts are honored and each party holds up their end of the agreement, but this isn’t always the case. A contract dispute can occur for any number of reasons and when it does, you need to understand how it can affect you.
When one party feels that the other has breached the terms of a contract, legal counsel may need to be involved to resolve these issues. An experienced business litigation attorney can help you understand what evidence is or isn’t admissible so that your assets and finances are protected.
Clark Law Firm PC serves clients in Birmingham, Alabama, throughout the rest of the state, and in the Florida Panhandle. The firm can offer you reliable legal guidance and support throughout your contract dispute. Reach out today to schedule a consultation.
Common Contract Disputes
Many contract disputes arise out of business agreements where one party fails to perform their duties. This could be a dispute within a business between partners or shareholders, or it may be an issue between the employer and employees. Examples of this would be a failure to abide by non-disclosure agreements, non-compete clauses, or divulging trade secrets. Individuals may also run into contract disputes if they’ve entered into an agreement with a contractor or insurance company, to purchase a vehicle or real estate, or to rent or lease a residential or commercial space.
Four Types of Evidence
When you decide to bring a contract dispute to court (or someone has filed a suit against you), there are four main types of admissible evidence:
Testimonial: Testimonial evidence is provided by a witness who can testify to the terms of a contract. This kind of evidence is especially useful regarding oral contracts.
Documentary: This is typically a copy of the contract itself that provides evidence of the formal, written agreement between the two parties, but can also include documents like letters, emails, other correspondence, receipts, invoices, bills of lading, or packing lists.
Demonstrative: Demonstrative evidence is any evidence other than testimonial that upholds or defends one party. Examples would be videos, recordings, or photographs of a certain action taking place.
Real: In contract disputes, the real evidence is almost always the contract itself which can provide the most direct proof of failure on either side.
General Rules of Admissibility
Any evidence brought forth must be relevant and material to the case. If the evidence is relevant and material, then it must be "authenticated" by the party offering it. "Authentication" is required to show that a piece of evidence really is what it is (i.e., really is the applicable contract or really is an email from you to some other person sent on that particular date and without any changes or alterations). Authentication may be particularly important in the case of demonstrative evidence. The general rules of admissibility state that evidence must prove or disprove a disputed fact, must directly pertain to the case at hand, and must be legally reliable. If evidence is found to be prejudiced, confusing, or privileged, it may be dismissed by a judge.
The Parol Evidence Rule
The parol evidence rule generally only applies in contract disputes. The rule provides no "outside" evidence be brought in to prove the intent of the parties as to a contract if the contract is "unambiguous" (i.e., is not confusing or capable of being understood in two or more different ways). The only relevant provisions are what is found in the original, written contract. This typically excludes any discussions the parties may have held regarding the "deal" before signing the written agreement. This usually does NOT exclude any written or oral agreements that were made after the initial contract was finalized. For example, if two parties enter a written contract for the sale of a piece of machinery for $100,000, one party cannot later bring up evidence of the parties' earlier discussions or verbal agreement in which the purchaser was only going to pay $80,000.
There are a few exceptions to this rule such as when portions of the original contract may be missing or ambiguous, when it can be shown that one party was coerced into signing the contract, or when there is a collateral agreement that both parties signed at the same time as the original contract.
How a Skilled Attorney Can Help You
Unfortunately, contract disputes like this tend to be commonplace in the business world and at some point, you’re likely to need the help of an attorney. When this happens to you, call Clark Law Firm PC in Birmingham, Alabama, for skilled legal advice you can trust.