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Verbal Contract Dispute

Summary: The bingo win, an industrial accident & an alleged breach of verbal contract dispute.

Mr G and Miss W met at a casino. They both had a passion for gambling. As their personal relationship developed, it was agreed that any winnings would be shared equally between the two of them.

After some time they decided to live together. It was taken as read, certainly by Miss W and by their mutual friends and family that at some point in the future the couple would get married. It was never clearly established whether Mr G actually proposed marriage to Miss W.

One evening, about six months after meeting, they played prize winning bingo. Miss W won a substantial six figure sum and as agreed, she immediately wrote out a cheque to Mr G for exactly half the winning amount.

The following day Mr G paid off all his debts and bought himself a top of the range sports car. That same day Mr G went into his employer with the intention of handing in his notice.

Unfortunately, while Mr G was walking through the factory floor, a sheet of metal fell from the ceiling on to his head. He was rushed to hospital with catastrophic and life changing injuries. In the early days in hospital, the severity of brain damage resulted in blindness although it was not clear whether his sight would return with time.

Some months later Mr G was ready to be discharged and Miss W was on hand to take him home and look after him. The problem was that Mr G wanted to go home with his mother. When gently informed by Miss W that as his fiancée she was more than happy and willing to look after him, he denied knowing her.

As the weeks progressed, it was evident to Miss W that whatever relationship she thought they had was over. Perhaps understandably, Miss W demanded her money back from the bingo win. Mr G’s response of “Money? What money?” was not well received! Thus started proceedings by Miss W to recover the share of bingo winnings she gave Mr G.

It was explained to Miss W by her solicitor and Counsel that her case was weak if for no other reason than there was no written agreement between the two. If the case proceeded to trial it would be up to the court to decide a way forward.

The mediation was arranged and as I read the papers, the phrase “hell has no fury as a woman scorned” came to mind.

Mr G arrived with an entourage of family and friends together with his guide dog. I explained the reality of the situation to Mr G that this problem was not going to go away and that it was going to cost him money whatever the outcome. If the case went to trial it was going to cost him substantially more than doing a deal that day. I explained that he should have a think about the minimum-maximum amount he was willing to pay to settle the dispute if that is what he wanted.

Back in Miss W’s room, together with her solicitor and mother, although it was not explicitly stated, Miss W thought she might also be entitled to a share of Mr G’s industrial accident compensation claim. I explained that she was unlikely to be entitled to a share to which her solicitor agreed. To pursue the case to trial – which of course was Miss W’s prerogative – would result in substantially less money paid, if at all. Let’s face it, I explained, if Mr G has any of the bingo winnings now, he was going to be left with substantially less if the case went to trial. So, she too was encouraged to think of a minimum-maximum sum she would accept to make the problem go away leaving her to get on with her life.

Ironically, Mr G’s maximum and Miss W’s minimum figures were the same. I called a side meeting with both parties respective legal representatives and explained the significance of the figures. It did not take long for both sets of lawyers speak to their clients and to draft the settlement agreement.

It must be said that going to trial is always an option to resolve a dispute. However, litigants would do well to ask themselves what they are realistically willing to do or accept to make the dispute go away without going to trial. The reality is that a negotiated agreement between disputant parties might not be the best deal in the world but it is a solution that they can live with, leaving them to draw a line under the dispute and to get on with life.