A breach of contract claim can be brought when a party violates the terms of the contract. Contracts can be breached in various ways, like failing to fulfill obligations set forth in the contract or doing something that the contract prohibits.

Contract breaches generally fall into three categories: anticipatory, material, or minor. It is important to understand the difference between these breaches, as well as your rights and remedies even when the breach is minor. 

However, you should keep in mind that minor breaches can generally be resolved outside of court and there are some defenses another party could assert during a minor breach of contract lawsuit.

How is a Minor Breach Different from Material and Anticipatory Breaches?

To understand the differences between breach types, you need to get a grasp on what each means and how the different breach levels affect contract performance:

  • An anticipatory breach refers to a situation when one party realizes the other party is not going to hold up their end of the contract. This is generally exhibited through a firm refusal regarding contract completion, committing an action that makes it impossible to complete the contract, or where the subject matter of the contract becomes unavailable. The “non-breaching” party can decide to terminate the contract in these situations.
  • A material breach is when the contract violation is so serious that it prevents the parties from being able to carry out the contract at all. This is often referred to as a fundamental breach of the contract.
  • A minor breach is when a party fails to perform a term of the contract, but the breach is so insignificant and unimportant that the remainder of the contract can still be completed in its entirety. A minor breach will not affect the overall purpose of the contract.

Consider the following example to help illustrate the differences between breaches: Suppose you hire a painter to paint your house with a specific shade of gray paint by a specific brand. If the painter never shows up to paint your house, this may be considered a material breach of contract.

However, if the painter uses a different brand of gray paint that is identical to the paint you chose because the specific brand was not available, this would likely be a minor breach of contract. Lastly, if the painter calls you up and clearly tells you that they refuse to perform the work under the contract, this would likely be considered an anticipatory breach.

Can I Bring a Lawsuit Even if the Contract Breach is Minor?

Even if you have suffered a minor breach of contract, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. However, this is limited to situations where you actually suffered damages as a result of the minor breach. However, damages will obviously be more limited with minor breaches than with material breaches. For example, if there was a difference in price between a substituted material under the contract this could be considered damages.

It would be best to attempt settlement of this matter before expending costs related to court fees. Also look at the contract itself to see if it lays out steps for settling a dispute, like going to mediation or arbitration before filing a lawsuit. The terms of the contract will usually govern any dispute that arises.

However, keep in mind that just because a minor breach occurred, that does not mean you cannot complete your obligations under the contract. Non-performance is only permitted for material breaches. For example, in the painter scenario above the homeowner would have to pay the painter for the work performed in the minor breach scenario because the painter still painted the house mostly according to the contract terms. 

Using a different brand of paint that carried an identical color did not affect contract completion. However, in the material breach scenario the homeowner could refuse payment under the contract because the work was never completed and sue for damages.

What Defenses are Available for a Minor Breach of Contract?

The breaching party may have some defenses in a minor breach of contract case. For example, the party could claim that no damages resulted. Also, if the non-breaching party failed to perform their duties under the contract after the minor breach, they could also raise this in court to show that there was a mutual breach.

Using the example above, if the homeowner failed to pay the painter even though the work was completed (just with a different paint brand) and then sued the painter for breach of contract, non-payment by the homeowner could be asserted as a defense.

Other defenses than these may be available for a minor breach. This will depend on your state’s law and facts of your case.

Should I Consult an Attorney About Minor Breach of Contract Issues?

You should first try to settle a dispute over a minor breach of contract outside of court. However, if you cannot resolve the dispute or are unsure if the breach was minor or material you should contact a local business attorney. An attorney can explain your rights under the law and help formulate a plan to remedy the breach and possibly collect damages owed.