An obligation is an act or course of action to which a person is legally or morally bound. Most of these may be more moral than legal but they are not objective, in other words cannot be agreed to exist. They are also not remedied by society in any acceptable way. Therefore, we will discuss the legal use of obligation, what is required to determine one and how a breach is handled.
Breach of obligation in contract law is the failure to perform some type of promise. Related concepts are negligence, breach of duty and breach of contract. In legal actions it can take the form of:
a borrower/lender relationship where someone has failed to pay
a commercial agreement with failure to deliver or take delivery
breaking of a statutory duty under law or regulation
breach of fiduciary duty
In order to legally determine breach, liability must be established through the casual relationship between conduct and the result of that conduct, with the conduct being the breach and the result being the injury incurred. This is called causation. The conduct may be called an event that is sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury, the result, which then may be held as the cause of that injury or proximate cause. This establishes the legal liability.
Legal action need not wait until a breach makes an obligation impossible. In January 2012, Canadian Business magazine reported that the Canadian firm Northstar Aerospace Inc., a manufacturer of helicopter gears and transmission parts, was notified that a breach of obligation under contract had been filed by a customer demanding the breach be “cured” within ten days. This meant that the obligation should be fulfilled and still could be. Otherwise the claims should be resolved in an acceptable way, usually financially. Northstar reported that uncertainty about its ability to remain a going concern would probably result in violation of its customer contracts by January 30th.
In this example, the remedy demanded was performance of the promise under contract. Upon failure to do so the claim should be resolved through other means, usually payment of monetary compensation. Northstar’s doubt about its ability to stay in business might mean that the claimant would have to file with a bankruptcy court to settle the claim.
Tort law (a tort is an act that causes harm to another and is either intentional or negligent) holds that there is a duty (obligation) of care where individuals are held to a reasonable standard in acts that could forseeably harm others. This duty can be a legal obligation or develop though common law as a responsibility of individuals to others in society. An action where failure to hold the duty (or breach) is claimed may subject an individual to legal liability. Physical or chronological proximity between the parties is not required. What is required is existence and breach of the duty with harm or damage the result of the breach.
This liability can result, as in contract law, from a commercial relationship where a breach of the duty from product liability can cause harm or from medical malpractice. These are particular types of torts that are all considered negligence. The loss suffered from the tort can be physical, damage to property or even emotional distress. The only relief for loss is the award of money.
Intent may cause a tort to be criminal. Examples can be battery (hitting someone knowingly) and slander (spreading a malicious, harmful rumor known to be untrue). These also require a breach of duty but because they harm all of society instead of an individual, criminal penalties are imposed rather than monetary compensation.
Obligations and duties where breaches may result in real penalties and/or compensation, are points of law used throughout the world to keep society from harm by punishing those who violate others. Society is kept orderly and civil by law enforcement and judicial institutions in this way. Everyone benefits by knowing they are protected by these laws and the obligation of everyone to exercise reason and care in interaction with all citizens.
Breaches of obligation that are incurred without being legally determinable would be the subject of philosophy. Since they cannot be objectively agreed upon, they may simply be efforts to force or coerce. Obligations that are felt and acted upon without having legal substance simply to show emotions of love or solidarity to a person or a group of people are revered in society as the right thing to do. Such obligations and their breaches are not possible to discuss here and have no basis in human law or the remedies provided.