You’re On the Jury: The Case of the Offer too Good to Be True
Sam Smith, by mistake, opened up a letter with his neighbor’s address on the front but left in his mailbox. The letter, from a major automobile manufacturer, read as follow: “Dear Mr. Jones or Occupant: We offer to sell you one of our deluxe luxury automobiles for $100.00*. Use the enclosed card to indicate your acceptance and return it to us together with your check in the amount of $100.00”. The asterisk was printed on the reverse of the letter next to the following language: “*provided you are the winner in a drawing to be held in one month. Your check will only be cashed on winning.”
Sam never saw the language on the reverse side. He returned the acceptance card together with his check and never received the deluxe luxury car. His check was never returned to him but neither was it cashed. He sued the car manufacturer for breach of contact.
During the trial, the manufacturer’s representative explained that this type of advertising had been used for many years by many different types of companies and that everyone knew that this type of offer was limited and usually dependent on a person being selected in a drawing. He explained that the offer had been sent out to a limited number of people, chosen because of their prior ownership of the manufacturer’s vehicles. He introduced in evidence a copy of the letter, showing that all the details of the offer had been printed in large-size type. Sam explained that even though the letter was not meant for him, there was no name at the top of the letter, and he assumed the offer was meant for the general public. He stated further that he never looked at the reverse of the letter because the offer on the front was clear.
The Arguments at Trial
The manufacturer’s attorneys argued that an offer was never made to Sam, only to his neighbor, and thus Sam could not have accepted the offer. Also, the offer was not made to the general public but to a limited group, and thus the offer could only be accepted by a member of that group. They argued further that the offer and qualifying statement were in clear language and printed in large-size type so that a potential buyer would understand the nature of the offer. Sam’s attorney argued that because a name did not appear at the top of the offer, the offer should be considered as having been made to the general public, and therefore Sam had a right to accept the offer. She further argued that the qualifying statement should have been printed on the front of the letter and not on the reverse side where it might not be read. She claimed that a valid offer had been made and that the offer had been accepted properly by Sam.
Questions to Discuss
- If you were the judge or jury deciding this case, for whom would you decide? Why?
- Would your answers to any of these questions be different if the neighbor’s name and address had been printed at the top of the letter or if the qualifying statement had been printed at the bottom of the first page of the letter? Why?
- What remedies should be awarded to the prevailing party? Why?