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LEGAL MATTERS: Why You Can’t Sue Santa Claus

Thursday, January 03, 2013

 

Feel like Santa reneged on his promise to bring you something special? Thinking about of suing him? Don't; you will lose in court and be stuck on the naughty list for years.

To understand why you will lose, you have to understand the difference between an enforceable contract and a mere promise.

Contract

A contract is an agreement courts will enforce. To be a contract, the agreement must include the making of an offer, acceptance of the offer, and consideration. In a typical contract, the offer and acceptance are promises and the consideration is one person doing something based on the other person’s promise. Here is an example:

Offer: Nicholas promises to pay Buddy $100 if Buddy builds him ten doll houses.
Acceptance: Buddy promises Nicholas he will build them.
Consideration: Buddy, relying on Nicholas’ promise, buys wood and spends hours making the doll houses.
Courts enforce contracts because it would be unfair not to. In this example, that means a court would force Nicholas to pay Buddy for the doll houses.

Gratuitous Promise

Every promise does not create a contract. For example, if Santa said he would bring you a new bike since you were so good this year, he was not forming a contract with you. He did promise you something but it was based on your prior good behavior and there was nothing more you had to do to get the bike. That means there was no consideration. Courts deem promises like that to be gratuitous and it does not enforce them. Here are some other gratuitous promises court would not enforce:

“We had such a good time together, I promise to call you so we can go out again.”

“That was a great meal, I promise to tell all my friends what a good cook you are.”

“I just bought myself a lottery ticket but I promise to give you $1 million if I win.”

Illusionary Promises

What if months before Christmas you promised Santa you would be good to your younger brother in exchange for a new bike, Santa agreed, and you were good. That sounds like a contract because there was an offer (you promised to be good), acceptance (Santa agreed to bring you a bike), and it seems like their was consideration (you were good!). But you were supposed to be good anyway - regardless of what Santa promised.  So you were not doing anything to earn the bike, you were just trying to blackmail Santa.

Promises to do something you are supposed to do anyway, and promises not to do things you are not supposed to do anyway, are really not promises at all. The courts call those types of fake promises illusionary and they do not enforce agreements based on them. To help you understand why, consider these examples of illusionary promises:

“I’ll promise to obey the contract we already signed only if you now promise to pay me double.”

“I’ll promise not to become a bank robber if you promise to pay my college tuition.”

“I’ll let you go if you promise to bring me back a $1 million dollar ransom.“

Be Good For Goodness' Sake

Santa has been doing the right thing for years and he has never lost in court. My advice is to hire a lawyer for business agreements but, when you are dealing with Santa, just be good and trust him.

John Longo is a consumer rights attorney practicing law in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He represents consumers who have disputes with businesses, employees cheated out of their wages or overtime, car buyers stuck with Lemons, and people in need of bankruptcy protection. He is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the Rhode Island Association for Justice.

 

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