An expensive comma

August 10, 2006 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Sometimes punctuation can be expensive.

That was certainly the case for Rogers Communications of Canada, which recently found that its misreading of a contract — not recognizing the meaning of the placement of a comma in a particular sentence of a contract — will cost the company a couple of million dollars. All this is according an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Rogers had a contract to put cable lines across thousands of untility polls in the Maritimes. Rogers thought the agreement was good for at least five years because of the sentence that the agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successfive year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

The contract was with Aliant, Inc. More than a year ago, Aliant informed Rogers that it was giving notice that it was scrapping the contract based on that sentence. Rogers argued that its understanding was that the contract, which was still in its first five-year period, could not be disgarded so easily.

But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission disagreed.

The comma, the commission said, gave Aliant the right to cancel the contract during the first five years with only a year’s notice. Alient will do so, and renotiating the contract will cost Rogers about $2 million.

A high price to pay for overlooking a comma.

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