Delayed Performance

Delayed performance will always justify a claim of damage where it can be shown that loss was occasioned by the delay. Most courts hold, however, that delayed performance will not be a material breach justifying rescission unless performance by a certain date is a condition precedent in the contract. If the late performer has any reasonable excuse for delay, the courts may allow damages but will seldom agree to rescission.

In agreements for the sale of marketable merchandise, however, a contract calling for shipment or other performance within a designated time is generally held to be a condition precedent. The difference between merchandise contracts and other contracts is in the position of the injured parties. A delay of a week in obtaining possession of a new home would not likely be crucial to the average home buyer. But a merchant’s success depends on the prompt delivery of goods to customers. Often advertising and sales programs are scheduled around specific delivery dates. Consequently, a delay in the shipment of merchandise is usually held to be a material breach.

Delay cannot be tolerated indefinitely in any kind of contract, however. After the passage of a reasonable time without performance the courts will permit rescission in almost any kind of contract. What is a reasonable time will vary with the type of agreement and all the surrounding circumstances. If no date is specified in the agreement, the courts interpret this to mean that performance must be done within a reasonable time. When time is of great importance, the contract should always be drafted to read that “time is definitely of the essence in the performance of this contract.”

In a bilateral contract, the injured party cannot regard the other party as being in default until the injured party has offered to perform. In legal circles, this offer by the injured party is called a tender. Depending on the terms of the contract, the tender must be either an offer to pay or an offer to perform a service.

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