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   Chapter 47 THE PARTIES TO A CONTRACT

Up To Date Business By Various Characters: 4753

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


To every contract there must be two or more persons or parties. When Robinson Crusoe was on his island all alone, eating breadfruit and entertaining himself by throwing stones at the monkeys, he perhaps had a good time, but he could not make any contracts. But as soon as Friday came along they could make contracts, trade, and cheat each other as much as they pleased. A contract, therefore, is one of the incidents of society. A person sailing in a balloon alone could not make a contract, but if two were in the basket they might amuse themselves by swapping jack-knives or neckties, and these exchanges would be completed or executed contracts and would possess, as we shall soon see, every element of a contract.

Again, persons must be able, or competent, to make contracts. What kind of ability or competency must a person have? Not every person can make a contract, even though he may wish to do so. A minor, or person less than twenty-one years of age, though he may be very wise and weigh perhaps two hundred and fifty pounds, can make very few contracts which the law regards as binding. In fact, the only contracts that a minor can make for which he is bound are for necessaries-clothing, food, and shelter. Nor can he make contracts even for these things in unlimited quantities. A minor could not go into a store and buy six overcoats and bind himself to pay for them. The storekeeper must have common sense in selling to him and keep within a reasonable limit. In one of the well-known cases a minor bought a dozen pairs of trousers, half a dozen hats, as many canes, besides a large supply of other things, and, refusing afterward to pay the bill, the merchant sued him, and the jury decided that he must pay. The case, however, was appealed to a higher court, which took a different view of his liability. The judge who wrote the opinion for the court said that the merchant must have known that the minor could not make any personal use of so many trousers, canes, and hats, and ought not to have sold him so many. In short, the court thought that the merchant himself was a young minor in intelligence and ought to have known better than to sell such a bill to a person under age.

Of course it is not always easy to answer this question, What are necessaries? Much depends on the condition of the person who buys. A merchant would be safe in selling mo

re to a minor living in an affluent condition of life than to another living in a much humbler way. Quite recently the question has been considered whether a dentist's bill is a necessity, and the court decided that it was a proper thing for a minor to preserve his teeth and to this end use the arts of the dentist. Again, is a bicycle a necessity? If one is using it daily in going to and from his work, surely it is a necessity. But if one is using it merely for pleasure a different rule would apply, and a minor could not be compelled to pay for it. Cigars, liquors, theatre tickets are luxuries; so the courts have said on many occasions.

The courts, in fact, regard a minor as hardly able to contract even for necessaries, and he is required to pay for them for the reason that as he needs them for his comfort and health he ought to pay for them. In other words, his duty or obligation to pay rests rather on the ground of an implied contract (which has been already explained) than of an express one. The force of this reasoning we shall immediately see.

Suppose a minor should say to a merchant who was unwilling to sell to minors,-having had, perhaps, sad experience in the way of not collecting bills of them,-"I am not a minor and so you can safely trust me. I wish to go into business and wish you would sell me some goods." Suppose that, relying on his statement, the merchant should sell him hats or other merchandise for which he would afterward decline to pay, on the ground that he was a minor. Suppose he proved that he really was one-could the merchant compel him to pay the bill? He could not compel him to fulfil his contract, because, as we have already said, the law does not permit a minor to make a contract except for necessaries. The court, then, would say to the merchant: "It is true that you sold the goods to this minor; he has indeed lied to you; still the court cannot regard a contract as existing between you and him." On the other hand, a court will not permit a person to defraud another, and the merchant could make the minor pay for the deceit or wrong that he had practised on him; and the measure of this wrong would be the value of the goods he had bought. Thus the court would render justice to the merchant without admitting that the minor could make a legal contract for the goods that he had actually bought and taken away.

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