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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Letters of Credit

Letters of credit have been in use for over two thousand years, in one form or another. From the time of ancient Greece and Rome up through the present, letters of credit have been mainly used to finance shipping contracts. However, letters of credit have uses that go far beyond just transportation. In a letter of credit arrangement, the issuing party, usually a bank or insurance company, contracts with one party to pay funds to a third party upon the fulfillment of certain conditions specified in the agreement. Most commonly, they are employed to finance a sale of goods where the buyer and seller have limited contact and experience with each other, such as an international transaction. Because letters of credit are employed so extensively in international trade, they are governed by an international treaty ("Uniform Customs and Practices Governing Documentary Credits"). But utility of letters of credit is not confined to international shipping; they can be quite useful right here in Virginia. A tenant can obtain a letter of credit which will become payable to the landlord upon a certification from the landlord that the tenant has defaulted on his rent. This arrangement has several advantages over a conventional security deposit. The landlord can demand a much larger security deposit in the form of a standby letter of credit than he could in cash, and the tenant does not have to use his valuable cash reserves to satisfy the security deposit, assuming the tenant has a reliable credit history. In addition, the tenant will not be at risk of losing his security deposit if a foreclosure occurs. *** The above is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like to speak to one of the lawyers at Gross & Romanick, please call us at 703-273-1400 or fill out our online information request form.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Liquidated Damages

Liquidated Damages is a dollar amount stipulated in a contract which the parties agree is a reasonable estimation of the damages that would be owed to one party in the event of a breach by the other party. Companies often rely on liquidated damages clauses to assure performance of the contract.

Since the amount of damages is often difficult to ascertain when there is a breach, a liquidated damages provision attempts to fix the amount. Even if the parties agree to a liquidated damages clause, the Court will only award the actual damages suffered if they can be ascertained. In theory, the clause also saves litigation time and legal fees.

WHEN VALID: The Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes liquidated damages clauses in contracts as valid under the following conditions: (1) The figure must be a reasonable amount contemplated at the time of contract to be the probable loss to the non-breaching party in the event of a breach; (2) The amount cannot be punishing or punitive damages, grossly in excess of the actual damages; and (3) The damages must not be susceptible of a definite measurement.

The Court examines the conditions at different times of the contracting parties' relationship. When looking at the first and third conditions, the court examines them from the time of the contract. The second is examined at the time of breach.

ACTION ADVICE: In order to improve the likelihood of enforcement of a liquidated damages provision, a contract clause should state that the opposing party waives their right to contest the enforceability of the liquidated damages clause. In Gordonsville Energy v. Virginia Electric & Power (1999) the Virginia Supreme Court upheld such a waiver of rights provision.

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The above is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like to speak to an attorney, please contact Gross & Romanick at 703-273-1400 or by filling out our online information request form.