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Breach of Contract Defenses: Frustration of Purpose

A breach of contract occurs when one party to an agreement fails to fulfill their duties without good cause. In Florida, several affirmative defenses can be raised by the alleged breaches to justify non-performance. Frustration of purpose is a breach of contract defense. Here, our Clearwater contract law attorney provides a comprehensive overview of the key things to know about the frustration of purpose as a breach of contract defense. 

Frustration of Purpose: Defined

The Legal Information Institute explains that frustration of purpose is a common law breach of contract defense that can be used to excuse non-performance in certain limited circumstances. It happens when unforeseen events undermine the contract’s intended purpose, rendering performance meaningless, though technically not impossible. The legal doctrine recognizes that there are some situations where the circumstances that motivated the agreement’s formation no longer exist due to no fault of the parties involved in the agreement. 

Understanding Frustration of Purpose through an Example

Frustration of purpose can be a complex affirmative defense to a breach of contract claim. The specific circumstances of the case always matter. The concept can best be understood with some hypothetical examples: 

  • Frustration of Purpose (Example #1): Imagine that an entrepreneur in Florida rents an exclusive beachfront property for a high-end wedding. The scenic ocean is one of the primary attractions and a core reason for the booking. However, a natural disaster causes significant, permanent changes to the coastline, effectively eliminating the property’s ocean view. The property remains intact and functional for events, but the unique appeal that justified the premium rental price and attracted clients is gone. The entrepreneur may be able to escape the contract on the grounds of frustration with its purpose. 
  • Frustration of Purpose (Example #2): Imagine that a publisher signs a contract with an author to release a book timed to the Olympics—anticipating heightened interest and sales due to the event’s popularity. However, the event is delayed due to a pandemic. The book, while completed, loses its contextual relevance and anticipated market appeal, significantly impacting its sales potential. In this scenario, the contract’s purpose is frustrated not by the impossibility of publishing the book, but by the unforeseen cancellation of the event. 

Difficulty (or Unfavorable Changes) is Not Sufficient for a Frustration Defense 

To be clear, neither difficulty in fulfilling a contract nor unanticipated changes in market conditions that make the agreement unfavorable are sufficient to raise a successful frustration of purpose defense in a breach of contract claim in Florida. The defense demands a fundamental, unforeseen alteration of circumstances that obliterates the contract’s underlying rationale. 

Schedule Your Confidential Consultation With Our Clearwater Contract Lawyer Today
At Clearwater Business Law, our Clearwater business law attorneys have the skills and experience to handle breach-of-contract claims. If you have any specific questions or concerns about the frustration of purpose defense, we are here to help. Reach out to us by phone at (727) 785-5100 or send us a message for a fully private case assessment. With an office in Clearwater, we provide business law representation in Pinellas County and beyond.