Breach of contract means what you think it means. The word breach in Old English was braec, which meant breaking. Two parties have entered into a contract and one party (a person or a business) has failed to live up to his or her end of the bargain.
Before calling a lawyer or starting a lawsuit, how serious is the breach and what can be done about it? Perhaps the breach is minor and the party who has failed in some regard is willing and able to fix things. If a contractor promises to do certain work on Monday and does it instead on Thursday, this is minor and you are not relieved of your obligation to pay. If you negotiated for 25 year shingles and the contractor installed 20 year shingles, this is of greater consequence, but it does not mean that you pay nothing.
Minor breaches do not entitle the non-breaching party to walk away from the contract. The minor breach might warrant a price adjustment. This would have to be discussed with the party guilty of the breach. A price change would be an amendment to the contract. Contracts can be amended on consent. Each party should proceed in good faith. Courts are there when people cannot agree.
A major breach or a “fundamental” breach entitles the non-breaching party to walk away and treat the contract as being at an end. In law, this is called “repudiation”.
Most contracts can be oral and, therefore, an oral contract can be breached. Some contracts have to be in writing. However, if relations have soured with the other party, it is highly unlikely that there will be an agreement as to what the terms of the contract were. Contracts need certainty and, if uncertain and ambiguous, whether oral or written, they can fail for that reason. If a contract is “voided” for uncertainty, a party who has nonetheless received something of value will have to pay something. If the parties cannot agree, a court may have to decide what is fair and reasonable.
A contract is an exchange of value. Charitable or “gratuitous” promises are not contracts and are not enforceable, not that it would involve litigation in any event but, if your neighbour promises to cut your grass while you are away on vacation and fails to do so, that is not a breach of contract as it was not a contract in the first place.
Once again, please do not hesitate to call our firm for advice.