Students who’ve taken a qualifying education (licensing) course with me will likely remember the “Story of Dave.” I often tell it while we are studying contract law.
The story begins decades ago with a work friend and drinking buddy named Dave. Following a failed marriage, Dave was actively “playing the field” by, at times it seemed, dating as many women as possible. In the course of so doing, he met a young lady named Meg. I’d noticed that I was hearing her name often. The tales of other adventures diminished. It became apparent he was quite smitten with her.
One November evening, Dave and I were enjoying several adult beverages and conversation when he commented that he’d finally decided what to get Meg for Christmas–a diamond ring. I nearly fell out of my chair and replied, “Omigod, you’re getting married?!”
Almost before the question was finished he replied vehemently that he was not getting married–he was merely giving Meg a diamond ring for Christmas.
It was, as they say, a “teachable moment.”
I suggested to Dave that we would conduct an experiment by surveying every woman in the bar who would talk to us. (Fortunately, many would if only out of idle curiosity.) The question we would ask was “If you received a diamond ring as a Christmas gift, what would you think it meant?” Of course, 100% replied with a version of the conclusion they were engaged. David offered a further explanation to several of our subjects. They remained steadfast in their opinion, shook their heads and gave him that “oh you poor guy” look.
When Dave and I finished our drinks that night I noticed he seemed a bit subdued and thoughtful. Meg was certainly not like every other woman–that’s why he was smitten by her. But he now had overwhelming evidence that she might well view his gift differently than he intended. He did not mention his planned gift again as Christmas approached.
The story demonstrates an implied contract — an agreement created by actions of the parties involved, but it is not written or spoken. Implied contracts can be difficult to enforce but they are often considered valid. (Note that the Maine Statute of Frauds requires any contract involving the transfer of an interest in real estate to be in writing. MRS Title 33 §51) There is actually some interesting case law around engagements, engagement rings, etc. Can the ring be considered liquidated damages should the offeror fail to follow through with the marriage?
Students always want to hear the rest of the “Story of Dave.” I’ve been able to share that he did give her a diamond ring and they were married about a month after Christmas. Since we lost contact several years later, I’ve not been able to share the long-term results. Until now. Much to my surprise, my phone rang this week and it was Dave! He’d used the Internet to locate me. We did a lot of catching up. I am thrilled to report that he and Meg are still a happy couple (I don’t remember the exact year they married, but it was close to forty years ago), have three very successful adult children and enough grandchildren to keep them busy.
So we have a story with a happy ending and an example of an implied contract that worked. We sometimes joke that marriage is the cause of most divorces… and observe that written agreements often are the cause of many disagreements. I’m delighted to have this example of an implied contract that was successful. Congratulations, Dave and Meg!