The Fraud Exception to the Parol Evidence Rule: Necessary Protection for Fraud Victims or Loophole for Clever Parties?
Note by Alicia W. Macklin
From Volume 82, Number 4 (May, 2009)
Consider the following hypothetical: Two businesses—X, a software company, and Y, a retailer—reach a typical agreement regarding a software license. After extended negotiations, a written, integrated agreement finalizes the deal; it states that X will license software to Y and provide related hosting and technical support services. It does not include, nor did the two parties ever discuss, implementation of the software. Some time after the agreement was made, Y attempts to compel X to implement the software. Y later argues in court that X made fraudulent oral promises that induced Y to sign the written agreement. Y claims that X additionally agreed to provide both a total cost of ownership guarantee, including implementation, and the assistance of its consulting and development personnel to implement the software. Y’s lawyers correctly realize that, in California, the courts have allowed extrinsic evidence of fraudulent promises when those promises are consistent with or independent of the written agreement, notwithstanding the Parol Evidence Rule (“PER”). Thus, while X can present its best argument that the promise to implement the software would directly contradict or vary the terms of the limited licensing contract, the outcome in court is still unpredictable. Unsuspecting X is in danger of being forced to bear a substantial burden for which it never intended to contract.
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