The Most Expensive Punctuation Mark

The comma may as well be the most expensive punctuation mark, as Rogers Communications Inc. of Canada could soon realize. The company risks having to shell out an extra $2.13 million because the placement of a single comma in the construction of a single sentence in a contract permitted early termination of the agreement.

Rogers thought it had a five-year deal with Aliant Inc. to string Rogers’ cable lines across thousands of utility poles in the Maritimes for an annual fee of $9.60 per pole. But early last year, Rogers was informed that the contract was being cancelled and the rates were going up. Impossible, Rogers thought, since its contract was iron-clad until the spring of 2007 and could potentially be renewed for another five years.

Armed with the rules of grammar and punctuation, Aliant disagreed. The construction of a single sentence in the 14-page contract allowed the entire deal to be scrapped with only one-year’s notice, the company argued.

The contract states that the agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

That’s one expensive oversight. But for both parties, I think there’s something potentially more valuable than millions of dollars lost or earned over the dispute, and it’s called goodwill. Perhaps if they stuck to the original spirit of the contract (which I think is in favor of Rogers), then they could still expect good business from each other well into the future. And they would save up on having to pay their respective lawyers, who are the only ones who end up getting richer in the process with such disputes, anyway.

Still, it’s best to be more vigilant next time.

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