The ABCs of Legalese

Whether you're a meeting planner, a hotelier, or otherwise involved in the meetings industry, the proliferation of lengthier contracts may make you feel more like a part-time lawyer. Understanding definitions of a few commonly used legal terms may make your job a whole lot easier.

As in all things legal, the definitions or applications of these terms may vary from state to state or be based upon particular circumstances. (Additional definitions will be given in subsequent articles.)

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) A federal mandate that protects persons with physical or mental disabilities, whether real or perceived, that substantially impact the person's ability to engage in major life activities. Disabilities may include history of alcoholism or drug addiction, hearing or vision impairment, HIV/AIDS, and more. Such persons are entitled to reasonable help and conveniences in employment and places of public accommodation.

Arbitration A method of resolving disputes that doesn't use court proceedings. Disputes are presented for resolution to an independent party or panel agreed upon by both sides. Some laws require arbitration, such as in labor disputes. While it's usually faster and cheaper than going to court, the result can be enforced in a court proceeding.

Breach Any failure to perform as agreed. A minor breach may entitle the other side to damages, but is probably not enough to allow the other party out of the contract. A "material breach" is one that is so significant, it deprives the other side of the "benefit of its bargain," allowing the party out of the contract.

Consideration Some-thing that each party gives in order to enter into a binding contract. Each side must either agree to do something it wouldn't otherwise have to do, or give up a right to do something it could normally do.

Damages Amounts paid by one party to another for breaching an agreement. The law awards damages to put the innocent party in the position it would have been in if the contract had been performed.

Discrimination Discrimination against protected classes is prohibited under federal law in places of public accommodations, including hotels, convention centers, and restaurants. Race, religion, and gender are the primary classes covered in discrimination statutes, but state or local laws may also include age or sexual orientation.

Force Majeure A circumstance not contemplated by either side that makes it illegal or impossible to perform. Both elements must be present: the unexpected circumstance and the resultant impossibility.

Integration When a contract has language that it is the complete agreement between the parties and cannot be changed unless in writing, it is called an "integration clause."

Lisa Sommer Devlin is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona, at the firm of Kurtz Sommer Devlin. As a frequent speaker and writer on legal issues for nonlawyers, a significant portion of her practice involves advising clients regarding group- and convention-related matters.