Can I sue over a verbal agreement?

A boy that Ihad guardianship over needed a vehicle. So we decided to let him take over payments on one of our vehicles. The agreement was that if he made the payments on time and kept the upkeep on the vehicle then we would sign it over to him once it was paid off. After he blew the engine up and transmission in it, he stopped making the payments. We repo’d the vehicle just like a bank would. We have since got the vehicle fixed. With an additional payment and a loan payment for the vehicle it has financially hurt us. Can we sue him?

Asked on November 9, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Ohio

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Even though as a general matter, oral (often called verbal) agreements can be enforced, there may be several difficulties in enforcing this one:

1) You call the person a "boy": if he is under the age of 18, he is still an "infant" in the eyes of the law and cannot enter into contracts. Therefore, you cannot enforce a contract against him.

2) He was paying to have use of a vehicle. If the engine blew--assuming it wasn't caused provably by his negligence or intentional bad act--an argument could be made that he was no longer liable to pay for  the vehicle; the argument would be that once he was no longer provided with a working vehicle, the agreement was breached and he was absolved of his obligation to pay. It is not certain he would make this argument, or that if he did, that he would prevail, but it is a reasonable defense that he could raise.

3) As a practical matter, if he is a "boy" he may not have the resources to pay, even if you sued and won.

And, of course, there is the trouble common to any oral agreement: proving the existence and the exact terms of the agreement, if the other party should disagree with how you characterize or describe it.


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