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How a Defendant’s Procedural Misstep Helped to Preserve a Plaintiff’s Jury Verdict and Award in a Florida Breach of Contract Case

Sometimes, the path to success in your commercial litigation case is strong factual evidence. Other times, it is a clever or insightful legal strategy. Still other times, it is properly following the rules of court procedure, as well as using your opponent’s failure to follow the rules against it. To make sure you have the strongest possible case in your breach of contract lawsuit, you need an experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorney skilled in all three of these areas.

A recent breach of contract case in the realm of agribusiness is a good example. A Highlands County beekeeping business signed a contract with a Hardee County farm to provide pollination services for the farm’s crops. Unfortunately, many things allegedly went wrong. The farm allegedly didn’t pay a $4,500 sum due on the contract and destroyed the bee colonies by using toxic pesticides “in a manner inconsistent with their labeling,” which killed the bees.

The bee company sued, alleging breach of contract, negligence and violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA.) The jury sided with bee company and awarded $4,500 in contractual breach damages, $67,500 in negligence damages and an additional $72,000 in FDUTPA damages.

To be liable for a FDUTPA violation, a defendant must have engaged in acts or practices that were “unconscionable” or else “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of his trade or commerce.” After the trial’s end, the farm asked the trial judge to throw out the FDUTPA verdict because there was no evidence that it had engaged in unconscionable activity or anything that was unfair or deceptive. The trial judge agreed and threw out that award.

The appeals court, however, overturned that ruling and reinstated the full amount of the original jury verdict. The farm had one massive problem that defeated its motion to set aside the FDUTPA verdict. During the trial, the defense never challenged the evidence that showed that the farm engaged in “unconscionable acts or deceptive practices.”

Inconsistent arguments doom the defense

FDUTPA claims involve three pieces: (1) an unfair/deceptive or unconscionable action (2) that causes harm and (3) leads to actual damages. During the trial, all of the farm’s arguments about the sufficiency of the bee company’s evidence related to the second piece, causation. In its post-trial activity, the farm solely focused its attacks on the lack of an unconscionable or deceptive/unfair act, the first piece.

What that means, in terms of the law, is that the challenge to the lack of the unconscionable, deceptive or unfair act was a “newly raised posttrial challenge.” In Florida, there is a court rule – Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.480 – that covers situations like this. That rule says that you can’t engage in newly raised posttrial challenges, except in a few rare special situations. This was not one of those situations. As a result, the defense’s strategic missteps left it closed off from arguing that the FDUTPA verdict should be thrown out for the lack of an unconscionable or deceptive/unfair act.

Whether yours is the business that’s being sued for breach of contract or is the one pursuing a commercial litigation claim, you need the kind of complete legal representation that knows how to “cover all your bases” in terms of the facts, the law and the procedural court rules. Rely on the skilled South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman for that kind of effective representation in your breach of contract or commercial tort case. Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.

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