In order to make a contract, there has to be an offer, an acceptance of that offer, and consideration – an agreement that each party give something up in order to receive something else. If the contract is later broken, it is a breach of contract. But what happens when the terms of the contract agreed to actually violate the law?
A recent ruling by the Massachusetts Appeals Court mentions what happens in these cases, and highlights the need for a contract litigation lawyer who raises all of the issues in the case at the outset.
Parties' Agreement Raises Consumer Protection Law Issues
The case is Beauchesne v. New England Neurological Associates.
What happened was actually fairly straightforward: A car accident victim's lawyer called the hospital to get certified copies of his client's medical records. The hospital charged a flat $45 fee for “retrieval and copying.” The lawyer paid the money and got the records.
The problem was less simple: The hospital claimed that it could charge this fee under G. L. c. 233, § 79G, the law that deals with using medical records as evidence in court cases. However, another law, G. L. c. 111, § 70, lays out in detail what fees hospitals can charge for copies of medical records. The $45 fee was $18.19 too high under this statute, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law and 940 Code Mass. Regs. § 3.16(3) makes noncompliance “with existing statutes, rules, regulations or laws” an unfair trade practice.
The lawyer and the car accident victim filed a Chapter 93A complaint and sued the hospital for breach of contract for the overcharge.
Appeals Court Distinguishes Breach of Contract Claims from Void Contracts
The Massachusetts Appeals Court, however, dismissed the breach of contract claim. Even assuming there was the offer, acceptance, and consideration necessary to form a valid contract, the claim that the overcharge violated that contract was misplaced: The overcharge would not have violated the contract; it would have violated the statute.
Rather than the overcharge breaching the contract, then, it would have rendered the contract void. Breached contracts can lead to damages for the non-breaching party. Void contracts, on the other hand, are merely unenforceable in court.
Claim Dismissed Because Void Contract Issue Not Brought Up
Unfortunately, the plaintiff in the case only claimed that there was a breach of contract – they did not also claim that the contract was void, from the start. Because they did not raise the issue and did not argue it in the trial court, before the appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court had no evidence to use to make a ruling and no choice but to ignore these new claims.
Massachusetts Contract Litigation Lawyers at the Katz Law Group
There is a significant difference between a contract that has been breached and one that was void from the very beginning. The business and contract litigation lawyers at the Katz Law Group know to raise both of these similar issues as soon as possible to protect your rights and interests.