What Evidence Is Admissible in a Contract Dispute?
March 15, 2022
Whether a contract is written, oral, or implied, parties to it agree to terms each will honor. If either party fails to do so, there will be a dispute. In all likelihood, a party to the contract was harmed by the circumstances of the dispute.
There are different ways to handle contract disputes, such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation. In any dispute, the parties will need to provide evidence that supports their side of the argument. It could involve personal, sensitive, confidential, or proprietary information. What can and cannot be used as evidence?
At Leet Law, we help individuals and businesses understand the rules of evidence in contract disputes, and we represent our clients’ interests throughout whatever resolution the dispute requires. If you live or own a business in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Oakland, or anywhere in the Bay Area, our business litigation experience, resources, and insights can work for you.
What Are Some Common Contract Disputes?
The basis for virtually any contract is one party’s offer to provide something in exchange for the other party’s payment. Some of the more common disputes arise due to such circumstances as:
Differing interpretations of terms in the contract;
Errors in the contract which could be typographical, accidental, or intentional;
Elements of coercion by one party;
Breach of the contract when one party fails to adhere to its terms.
What Types of Evidence Are There?
There are four types of evidence used to prove a case or disprove allegations, including those arising from contract disputes:
Real evidence comprises objects the judge or jury can hold in their hands. For example, if the contract dispute is alleging the use of substandard materials, the material itself could be used as evidence.
Demonstrative evidence is a graphic image used to illustrate witness testimony. For example, if a witness testifies to a delivery destination and the route taken to get there, a map could be used to illustrate that.
Documentary evidence includes documents like the contract, invoices, bills of lading, receipts, and other items.
Testimonial evidence is the verbal testimony of witnesses to events relevant to the dispute.
What Makes Evidence Admissible or Inadmissible?
Under the general rules of admissibility, the evidence must be relevant, or “material,” to the dispute. It must also be credible and authentic. Evidence that is merely prejudicial is usually not allowed. Hearsay is usually also not allowed, such as the opinions of people who think the defendant is dishonest without any basis in facts relevant to the disputes at issue in the case.
What Is the Parol Evidence Rule?
The parol evidence rule is intended to eliminate unfair attacks on the contract that is the subject of dispute. The rule renders agreements outside the subject contract itself inadmissible as evidence.
For example, two parties entered into a contract in which one party agreed to sell the other party a list of four products and the other party agreed to purchase them. The buyer then asked the seller to add a fifth product. The seller agreed orally but the contract was not revised to reflect the fifth item. A dispute could arise if the seller delivered the four products in the contract but not the fifth and the buyer accused the seller of breach of contract. Under the parol evidence rule, however, the oral agreement regarding the fifth item would not be allowed into evidence because it is not contained in the disputed contract.
The court could make an exception to the parol evidence rule if the plaintiff could prove that the disputed term, in this example, the fifth item:
Is directly related to the written contract;
Doesn’t contradict the contract; and,
Is something that would not typically be included in a written contract.
The court may allow the fifth product into evidence if the plaintiff can make a case for an exception to the parol rule.
How Leet Law Can Help
Leet Law can help individuals and businesses in San Jose, California, and the Bay Area first by helping them draft contracts that are difficult to challenge when a dispute arises. Leet Law can review contracts you are being asked to sign to raise questions, address discrepancies, and protect your interests.
If a dispute arises surrounding a contract to which you are a party, we can help you negotiate a resolution, navigate mediation or arbitration, and aggressively represent you in business litigation. That is what we do.
If you have a contract dispute or other business litigation, call Leet Law now to schedule a case consultation. Let us help you sort through the evidence.