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Legal Aspects of Purchasing

Contract Formation
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Enter content hereA contract is a legally binding exchange of promises or agreement between parties that the law will enforce. Contract law is based on the Latin phrase pacta sunt servanda (pacts must be kept). Breach of contract is recognised by the law and remedies can be provided. Almost everyone makes contracts every day. Sometimes written contracts are required, e.g., when buying a house. However the vast majority of contracts can be and are made orally, like buying a law text book, or a coffee at a shop. Contract law can be classified, as is habitual in civil law systems, as part of a general law of obligations (along with tort, unjust enrichment or restitution).

In common law, there are three key elements to the creation of a contract. These are offer and acceptance, consideration and an intention to create legal relations. In civil law systems the concept of consideration is not central. In addition, for some contracts formalities must be complied with under what is sometimes called a statute of frauds.

One of the most famous cases on forming a contract is Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, decided in nineteenth century England. A medical firm advertised that its new wonder drug, a smoke ball, would cure people's flu, and if it did not, buyers would receive 100. Many people sued for their 100 when it did not work. Fearing bankruptcy, Carbolic argued the advert was not to be taken as a serious, legally binding offer. It was merely an invitation to treat, or mere puff, a gimmick. But the court of appeal held that to a reasonable man Carbolic had made a serious offer. People had given good "consideration" for it by going to the "distinct inconvenience" of using a faulty product. "Read the advertisement how you will, and twist it about as you will," said Lord Justice Lindley, "here is a distinct promise expressed in language which is perfectly unmistakable".

Formalities and writing

Contrary to common wisdom, an informal exchange of promises can still be binding and legally as valid as a written contract. A spoken contract should be called an oral contract, which might considered a subset of verbal contracts. Any contract that uses words, spoken or written, is a verbal contract. Thus, all oral contracts and written contracts are verbal contracts. This is in contrast to a "non-verbal, non-oral contract," also known as "a contract implied by the acts of the parties", which can be either implied in fact or implied in law.

Most jurisdictions have rules of law or statutes which may render otherwise valid oral contracts unenforceable. This is especially true regarding oral contracts involving large amounts of money or real estate. For example, in the U.S., generally speaking, a contract is unenforceable if it violates the common law statute of frauds or equivalent state statutes, which require certain contracts to be in writing. An example of the above is an oral contract for the sale of a motorcycle for US$5,000 in a jurisdiction which requires a contract for the sale of goods over US$500 to be in writing to be enforceable. The point of the Statute of Frauds is to prevent false allegations of the existence of contracts that were never made, by requiring formal (i.e. written) evidence of the contract, however, a common remark is that more frauds have been committed through the application of the Statute of Frauds than have ever been prevented. Contracts that do not meet the requirements of common law or statutory Statutes of Frauds are unenforceable, but are not necessarily thereby void. However, a party unjustly enriched by an unenforceable contract may be subject to restitution for unjust enrichment. Statutes of Frauds are typically codified in state statutes covering specific types of contracts, such as contracts for the sale of real estate.

If a contract is in a written form, and somebody signs the contract, then the person is bound by its terms regardless of whether they have read it or not, provided the document is contractual in nature. Furthermore, if a party wishes to use a document as the basis of a contract, reasonable notice of its terms must be given to the other party prior to their entry into the contract. This includes such things as tickets issued at parking stations.


Contract Formation