Can Exchanged Emails Constitute an Enforceable Contract?

by Rob Hassett

Before sending an email to seal a deal, consider this scenario:

“I sent an email offering to buy an acquaintance’s car for a particular price. I added my name at the end of the email. The person I made the offer to sent an email back accepting the offer and included her name. I’ve decided I would rather buy a different car. Am I required to buy hers?”

The sale should have been contingent on an inspection. However, the emails as written appear to be sufficient to constitute a valid contract. If the buyer backs out, the seller may be able to convince a court to require him to buy the car, or at least pay the difference in price between the market value of the car and what he offered.

For a contract to be enforceable the parties involved must agree to all essential terms, and each has to manifest that party’s intention to enter into an agreement with the other. Additionally, certain types of contracts, including those for the sale of goods for a sum equal to or in excess of $500, must be in writing and signed by the parties.

The emails as described indicate an intent to buy and sell the vehicle. Sufficient terms are included to complete the transaction. Consequently, an exchange of emails can satisfy the requirement of a signed writing.

Any person asserting that a contract has been entered into via email must still prove that the other party actually sent and received the emails in question. Contrary to what you might think, sufficient proof will usually not be that difficult to provide.

Be sure about what you are emailing – as it may be enough to form a contract.

Rob Hassett is of counsel with the Atlanta, Georgia law firm of Casey Gilson, P.C. This column is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.

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About Rob Hassett

Rob Hassett is an attorney in technology, entertainment and corporate law with Hassett Law Group/Business Law Partners in Atlanta, GA. He is a co-author of a leading volume on internet and interactive media law and has taught many classes in the professional education program at Georgia Tech.

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