Sueing for breach of contract

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sft42 | 12:03 Fri 12th Nov 2004 | Business & Finance
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Is it possible to sue for breach of verbal contract if someone says "I promise never to tell anyone" upon being told a secret which they later divulge to a third party? Does the simple act of saying you won't tell anyone actually constitue a legally binding contract or would there have to be something else happen to make it more formal in the eyes of the law?

P.S. I am well aware of the problems that would arise in the proving of such a case..I am just curious about the actual legal standings and definitions.


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For a valid legally binding contract to exist, there needs to be four elements in place � offer, acceptance, consideration and intention to create legal relations.  If you had in mind a social situation where one friend tells another a secret in exchange for utmost discretion, I wouldn�t have thought any amount of clever arguing could interpret this to be a legally binding contract.  In social situations, the presumption is that the parties do not intend to create legal relations unless you can prove to the Court otherwise and the Court will apply the �reasonableness� test; would a reasonable person looking at the facts of the case and the evidence available (of which there would be little in the case of a purely verbal contract)  think the parties intended to create legal relations?  If you are talking about a business situation where the secret concerned is a business/ commercially sensitive secret, it may be possible to show the parties intended to create a legally binding contract if offer, acceptance and consideration can be demonstrated.
As a matter of law a contract requires various steps. These are, a) offer b) acceptance c) valuable consideration d) intention to create legal obligations. Your situation certainly fails the consideration test. Your friend did not get any thing out of the deal. A better bet might be breach of confidence, but before embarking on any sort of claim you need to be be satisfied that the game is worth the candle. Have you suffered any loss? Have they the funds to make it good? How much will it cost?
In a contract a defendant is liable for not making a plaintiffs' position better, for not fulfilling the plaintiffs' expectation of benefit from a contract - which clearly does not exist in the situation you pose. However, there is tort, which protects the status quo, in that the plaintiff's position should not be worsened by the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff should be restored to the position existing before the tort was committed. In the situation you pose a person is answerable for what they publish and if it reflects discredit on another - whether it is true, untrue, in ignorance or without intention - the defamation is libel or slander punishable either by being sued for damages in tort or criminal prosecution.
Hi Maud, what is the Tort you are thinking of?
Didwot - Maud mentioned the tort of defamation, which could possibly be a route for redress if the secret revealed was defamatory in nature.  Though defamation is a notoriously expensive course of action and the tests, such as proving damage to one's reputation, difficult to prove .
There's simply no contract here i'm afraid. If this were the case, we would be suing each other every day of the week - I suggest you find another frinend at tthe other side og the school yard.

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