Do I Have a Case? Verbal Agreement

UPDATED: Oct 2, 2022

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Do I Have a Case? Verbal Agreement

I was contracting as a full-time project manager with a man who was a leader in a national organization and owned his own business. Via email we agreed that I’d go full-time and that I’d only do work for his business. He’d pay me 3K per month from February – April. He called me at the end of March and stated that he’d like me to do work for him for both of his roles, that he would increase my base pay to 4K per month, that he was extending my term until the end of June, and that he was going to pay me 700 for work done for a training conference through the national organization, plus a few smaller payments. From April through June he stated he’d pay me a total of 14K. I typed this information in a document on my phone with the intention of sending it to him via email later but failed to do so. We were scheduled to hold his company’s first 3-day conference starting April 29. As I was leaving to get on the road, he texted me saying the pre-conference kick-off musical event had been cancelled due to a deadly shooting. A victim literally was found dead on the property where we were to be that night and for the week, plus there were reports that there were other gunmen who had yet to be found. I have the text messages telling him I did not feel comfortable coming, him saying simply tell him what I’d like to do as long as all of the work he needed was provided to him, me telling him I’d decided not to participate in the conference at the actual shooting venue but that I’d submitted all of the work to him already and that I’d be willing to come to the hotel to do whatever I could do to assist from there. He told me don’t bother to come. I cancelled my hotel reservation and sent a summary via email of all of the work that I’d done for the conference while also asking if there was anything else I could do from my location, the following morning. I then continued doing work for him, for his business and the national organization for a week – proof within the emails. He and his team stopped all communication with me the night of the shooting. He did not pay me for the months of May through June. I took him to court in my county/state. He sent an attorney stating

Asked on August 17, 2019 under Business Law, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

You write that you had an oral ("oral," not "verbal," is the correct term for an agreement that is not a written contract executed or signed by both sides) agreement. An oral agreement is terminable at will by either side: it is not binding on a forward-looking basis, but only sets out the pay, etc. for work that is in fact actually done. You also write that *you* decided to not go to the conference venue, at which point he told you to not "bother" to even come to the hotel--terminating the agreement, because you indicated you were not going to do what you had initially agreed to. 
So while he needs to pay you for all work you fact did do up to the moment you told him you'd not go the venue and he in response indicated that the working relationship was over, he does not need to pay you for anything after that moment. Therefore, you need to make the decision as to whether it's worth suing only on unpaid amounts due up to that point.
(Note: there is no case for compensation based on the claim he "purposely caused financial hardship" for you: his motivations in a commercial or contract case are irrelevant and the law does not care about whether he caused hardship to you intentionally, gleefully, negligently, inadvertantly, relucatantly, etc. In a case like this, all you can get is amounts due contractually to you.)
Other factors:
1) An oral agreement can be hard to prove in court if the other side disagrees as to what the terms were. Your own personal typed-up notes are NOT proof, since he did not respond that he agreed to them; hence they are nothing but a restatement of your beliefs, not evidence of an agreement.
2) No lawyer I know of would take this case on contingency: it's not going to be large enough or certain enough to win for a lawyer to invest his only real "capital" or resource--his or her time--on the chance of being paid later, if and when you win the case. This is the sort of case where I tell prospective clients that "If you don't believe enough in the case or in how much money you think you can win as to pay me for it on an hourly basis, then why should I believe in it enough as to take time away from paying clients to take this case?"

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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