Is a business contract enforceable if the customer did not sign it?

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Is a business contract enforceable if the customer did not sign it?

I hired an excavating company to clear some of my land. I was emailed an
estimate but I have not signed it yet. The owner and I agreed on what I wanted
done and the price. He decided he wanted to go ahead and start working on it. He
now isn’t going to finish in the time frame stated and may not even complete the
work he said he would. Would he be able to sue me if I didn’t pay in full for
service he did not provide in full? Again I have not signed a contract.

Thank you,

James

Asked on June 9, 2016 under Business Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Two different issues here:
1) A contract can be enforced without a signature if the facts clearly show agreement to it anyway. So if you receive an estimate, orally tell someone to start after agreeing to price (or at least let them start and don't tell them to stop and/or call the police on them for trespassing, destruction of your property, etc.), and otherwise act like you agreed to the contract, the contract is enforceable.
2) However, if party A materially (in an important way) breaches a contract, it can't sue party B for money under it--the material breach by A lets B treat the contract as terminated. So, while there are legal theories under which you do have to pay for useful work actually completed, you wold not have to have pay for any work he does not do.


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