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Can I sue for breach of an oral contract?

Elizabethtown, PA |

Due to financial hardship I was forced to give my horse away about a year and a half ago. The deal was that I would give these people my horse, but if they ever had to get rid of her for any reason they were to contact me so I could take her back from them. I found out about a week ago that they gave my horse away. They made no effort to contact me at all. When I confronted them about it, they refused to tell me who they gave them to. Today the new owners called me and said that they would not give my horse back to me, and that I was not even permitted to see her even to be sure that she is healthy and safe. I want my horse back. Is there anything I can do?

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Attorney answers 5


Oral contracts are valid in every state I am aware of. They are tough to prove in court. Nothing in the facts you presented indicates you have a strong case.

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Oral contracts are valid and enforceable. However, you will bear the burden of proof to show that not only was there a contract between you and the original seller, but that part of the contract allowed for you to have the right of first refusal if they ever decide to get rid of the horse. I suggest you contact an attorney in your area to see what remedies you have available to you.



What you are trying to sue for is called specific performance. Courts are weary of that sort of cause of action because now they have to force a third party to give you your horse back, which is unlikely to happen


I agree with my colleagues that oral contracts are generally enforceable, but hard to prove. Your problem, though, is that the new owner of the horse is what's called a "bona fide purchaser for value". Under Pennsylvania's Uniform Commercial Code, a person who buys property (not real property) by paying value for it, without any reason to know that anyone else has a claim to the property, the "bona fide" purchaser's claim to the property is superior to that of the actual owner (which would be your under your agreement).

Your claim is against the person you made the contract with and must be for money damages. You will not be able to get the horse back. If you are interested in pursuing the matter for damages, you should contact a local attorney.

Depending on the amount of money you are seeking and your comfort level in putting together a case, you could try to bring a small claims court action against the person whom you sold the horse to. Your problem will be proving what the contract was and what your damages are. Are there any witnesses to what was actually said and would the witness actually show up and testify at court? (Don't rely on affidavits in court). Has there been any correspondence (anything in writing, including texts and emails) between you and the buyer which evidences the agreement you had about returning the horse? You should if you have not already, send the buyer a letter detailing what the deal was, that the buyer breached the deal and that you want damages paid to you. Ask the buyer to respond to you in writing or at least an email or text. You may be lucky and the buyer's response may confirm the agreement. If your damages are the difference between what the buyer paid for the horse and the current value of the horse, you will need to engage an expert in the purchase and sale of horses to give his professional opinion of what the value of the horse is.

Rixon Charles Rafter III

Rixon Charles Rafter III


good counsel.


Can you sue? Certainly. Oral contracts are, at least in principle, just as binding as written contracts.

Can you win? Much harder to say. The existence and terms of oral contracts are, by their very nature, difficult things to prove with any certainty. Some kinds of contracts can't be done orally at all, e.g., the conveyance of real estate.

Either way, this is probably something you're going to need to consult an attorney about to figure out. And if you decide to sue to enforce the contract, that's going to cost money. As financial hardship was what got you in this situation in the first place, you may not be in a position to successfully prosecute this action. Still, plenty of lawyers in town--myself included--offer free consultations. Use the "find a lawyer" feature to identify one and at least start that conversation.

This answer does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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