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The Million Dollar Comma

Ever wonder how important grammar is to the drafting of agreements? One drafting error had a million dollar impact. In a 2006 Canadian case, there was a contract dispute between Rogers Communications, a cable television provider, and a telephone company, Bell Aliant. The Agreement called for Alliant to string cable lines across a large number of utility polls for an annual fee of $9.60 per pole. In 2005, however, Alliant wanted to increase the contract amount to $18.91 per pole.

The parties entered into an agreement, the relevant portion of which states:

“This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Alliant gave Rogers one (1) year notice and sought to increase its rates the following year. Rogers, however, took the position that Alliant was locked in at the $9.60 per pole rate for five (5) years and that the one-year notice provision was meant for the renewal term only. The case initially was decided based upon the grammar of the sentence, finding that Alliant could terminate the Agreement during that first five (5) year term. However, on appeal, the French, comma-less version, of the Agreement was introduced and utilized to show the clear meaning of the Agreement. On appeal, the Commissioners determined that Alliant was stuck in the contract for the five (5) year term.

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