What’s in a Word? A Primer on Contracts

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Clifford Gravett

Special to MLN

Although most of us don’t know it, contracts are an integral part of our everyday lives. Normally we don’t have to think about the consequences of the many contracts we make every day; however, these agreements—especially when broken—can have significant effects on us.

Understanding what a contract is (and what a contract isn’t) can thus prevent disappointment and frustration down the road. A contract has four main components: 1) offer, 2) acceptance, 3) consideration (giving something of value), and 4) performance. One thing I didn’t list, and which most people think is part of a contract, is a written document. Although there are some contracts which must be written down to be enforceable (particularly contracts for the sale of real estate), most do not.

While contracts may be incredibly complex and consist of hundreds of pages of miniscule text, most are not. For example, when you call and order a pizza, you have entered into a contract with the restaurant. You have offered to purchase a pizza at a certain price, the restaurant has agreed to sell you the pizza, the restaurant has given consideration by making the pizza and driving it to your house, and thus you are contractually obligated to pay for the pizza when it arrives at your house.

Calls to the plumber, car repairs, bids on ebay, and spa days all similarly involve contracts of one form or another.

Of course, it’s one thing to know what a contract is and another to know what to do when a contract has been violated. If you haven’t breached your obligations under a contract and the other side has, you can sue them in court for the damages to you from their breach of the contract.

If you are successful in your claim, the courts will generally award you the value of what you would have gotten had the other side followed through on their side of the deal and the losses you suffer because they didn’t. Whether you have a good case for breach of contract or you want to ensure you aren’t breaching a contract can be a difficult question to answer (unless, of course you’re dealing with an undelivered pizza) which requires a careful analysis of both the contract terms and the parties’ conduct. A competent attorney can advise you as to your rights under a contract, how to ensure that you do not breach a contract, and your legal rights in the event of a breach.

Clifford Gravett is a local attorney with the Virgin Valley law firm of Bingham Snow & Caldwell and serving clients in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah (702-346-7300 / www.binghamsnow.com).

 

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