You know all those ridiculous, “frivolous” lawsuits you hear about? And about 10 seconds after hearing about them, you usually utter “damn lawyers” or some such thing? (don’t worry, I do it too). As a lawyer, I can see why it is that the parties involved think they have a suit. Sometimes they really do. The granny who got hot coffee spilled on her lap at a McDonalds drive thru? Sounds crazy – like a clumsy blue-haired move – but looking at the facts of the case, McDonalds was pretty clearly wrong about some stuff. I could try to defend these cases out loud – but I’d rather not be the archetype you have in mind when you mutter “f***ing lawyer” in the future.
So a case came along today that even *I* have trouble believing. The names have been changed to protect the imbeciles.
Years ago, Connor Victor, or ConVict was accused of murdering his business partner and two other dudes. Defense Lawyer argued that for ConVict to be on the scene of the murder, he’d had to have been able to travel from Orlando to Atlanta and to the murder scene in 28 minutes or less. Well, ConVict was found guilty, and the indignant Defense Lawyer stated on national television (paraphrased): “no one can make that trip from Orlando to Atlanta in 28 minutes. I’d give a million dollars to the person who could.”
So flash forward to some Law Student’s first year Contracts class in a Houston law school. He hears about this case, the Defense Lawyer’s remarks, and with dollar signs flashing through his mind, he hops a plane to Orlando. He proceeds to make the same trip that ConVict was supposed to have taken, and videotapes it the whole way. And he actually goes from somewhere in Orlando to the murder scene in Atlanta in 28 minutes.
Law Student then proceeds to write a demand letter to Defense Lawyer, and includes a copy of his videotaped evidence as proof. Defense Lawyer gets nasty and tells Law Student to bug off, stop extorting me, I’m gonna sue you for mail fraud and all that. Law Student hires a firm in Houston, and files a suit. Really. I am not kidding you.
The suit says that Defense Lawyer, when he muttered “I’d give a million dollars to someone if they can make that trip in 28 minutes” in a fit of righteous anger over his client’s conviction…. Well, the suit says that the Defense Lawyer issued an offer, and when Law Student took him up on that offer, a “unilateral contract” was created. And when Defense Lawyer failed to pony up, he was in violation of that contract. When you contract with someone, you can say “I’ll do this and you do that” or you can say “If you do this, I’ll give you money”. Action is required from both parties to execute the contract in a bilateral contract, but action is only required from one party in a unilateral contract. The old “if you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, I’ll give you $20” thing. No apparent benefit to the offeror, but hey, that’s none of your business. You just start walking, and collect your $20 at the other side.
This is a grossly simplified version of contracting, but it’s all we really need for this particular post.
The trick with a unilateral contract, however, is that you must ask “would a reasonable person believe that the offeror was making a real offer?”
So we ask that now… If you were watching CNN, and saw this footage, would you run out and hop a jet to Orlando to make an easy million bucks? Would you REALLY believe that this guy was making a proposition to the entire country? Or would you throw it in the pile with all the other million dollar offers you’ve gotten over the years: “If you go hit that chick at the bar on the ass, dude, I’ll give you a million bucks!” or “If you say that to the boss’ face, I’ll give you a million bucks.”
I’m thinking this law student was a real smartass, and likes to have people look at him. He’s got a great pick up story he can use when he goes to the wine bar trolling for other single lawyers/Executive Vice Presidents/ part time models.
So what do we take away from this? A little contracts lesson…
What you CAN offer and rest assured you’ll never have to pay:
“If you put on this leather gimp mask and hump the back of Rush Limbaugh’s head on national TV, I’ll give you a million bucks!”
Why you’re safe with this one:
because you can’t contract with someone to do something illegal. The court will not uphold this contract, provided they got past the whole “a reasonable person would believe a contract had been created” thing. You’re basically daring your buddy to assault Rush Limbaugh (I do this one all the time) and you can’t contract for an assault. Well, you CAN but then you’re probably gonna get nabbed on conspiracy charges.
What you can offer and will have to pay:
“If you have this picture of Pat Robertson’s head on an alien’s body tattooed on your chest, I’ll give you a million dollars.” And you show him the check made out in his name…..
Why you’ll have to pay:
A reasonable person would believe you meant it – hey, you’ve had the check made out. Despite the fact that the act of putting Pat Robertson’s ugly mug anywhere seems unreasonable, the only test of reasonableness is whether someone would believe a contract was created.
I think the best advice I can give you is to not joke around with obnoxious law students who do ridiculous things to get noticed. And this advice – because I want to break down at least a bit of the stereotypes about us attorneys – is absolutely free for you today.