Drunken Verbal Contracts Legally Binding?

If me and another party make a verbal agreement, and shake on it, while under the influence of alchohol, is it legally binding? Would such an incident hold up in small claims court?

Depends. Figures, doesn’t it? Really - depends on your facts.

  1. Legality: depends on what kind of contract this was. You can’t make a contract for something illegal (bribery) and certain types of deals like real estate sales need to be in writing.

  2. Consent & Capacity: Both of you do this vulntarily and need to have the proper mental capacity to make the agreement – a “meeting of the minds.”

  3. Consideration: you give something, the other party gives something. Otherwise it’s a gift or something else, not a contract.

Here’s a good site on contract law basics: http://www.booksites.net/u01_intro_to_contract_law/l04_the_key_ingredients_of_a_contract/the_key_ingredients_of_a_contract01.htm

Oh, this assumes you’re asking about US contract law.

Not legal advice. Talk to a competent lawyer authorized to practice law in your jurisdiction. TMMV.

Could go either way. It’s impossible to answer without a much fuller description of the facts, and even then the outcome may be too close to predict.


I think Peg’s link has answered my question. Thanks guys.

Not in ancient Persia! The Persian nobility were in the habit of having roaring drinking parites in which they would often make decisions about state policy, often bad ones. It was royal policy to have a sober scribe present to record everything said regarding state policy so the Great King could review his decision in the morning (or afternoon as the case may be) when his head was clear. See Herotodus for a cite.

Nitpick: Isn’t it “oral” agreement? Somebody once told me that “verbal,” legally speaking, means “with words,” which can refer either to oral or written. Or were they just being pedantic?

I adopt a similar action as far as my personal dealings. If I drunkenly call or IM someone, I request that they save the message(s), so that they may hold me to them. This is an effort to curb my drunk-dialing/IMing.

It’s a good nit. “Verbal” does merely mean anything in words. “Oral” is spoken communication, and “written” is well, written. For this purpose, I’d assume a conversation between deaf people in ASL to also be “oral,” even though technically speaking, ASL isn’t “verbal” and is rather a language unto itself consisting of glyphs.

One of my professors used to say “an oral contract ain’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

That’s generally true, Dragonstar, but only because it’s much harder to prove the parties actually agreed when it’s your word against his. For most contracts (there are a handful of exceptions), there is no legal distinction between oral and written contracts in terms of their enforceability or binding effect – as long as you can convince the judge or jury that the contract really said what you said it did, and that’s pretty tough when there’s nothing written down.

N.B., the OP was not asking about oral K’s generally, but about oral K’s purportedly made when the parties are shit-faced; as I mentioned in my original response, it depends highly on a specific factual situation whereby the factfinder can decide whether a reasonable disinterested observer would think there was a meeting of the minds. (Peg’s points are also worthwhile in that the contract has to be otherwise valid, such as it much include valuable consideration.)


Which, of course, was first said long ago by Samuel Goldwyn, the late great movie mogul.

( based on a module in computer-law which i didn’t do too great on last semester)
The way i understood it, in scotland you can make a contract without the other party needing to give you anything.
And drinking making a contract null, i think not. The way i got told you had to be really really drunk, not, i had a few pints down the pub, then went clubbing, i felt cr&^ in the morning.
If you were still making sense i think you can be held to it.