People make promises every day, but not all of them are legally binding under the law. While most contract principles are based upon legal treatises that are hundreds of years old, each state, including Washington, has the authority to develop its own legal code through the state legislative process and interpret that code through judicial decisions and case law.
Offer and Acceptance
The first element that must be present in a legally binding contract under Washington law is an offer by one party and acceptance of the offer by another. If a party makes a counter-offer rather than accepting the original offer, the buyer cannot be bound by the original offer if the seller chooses to accept the original deal after presenting a counter-offer. For example, if Bill offers to sell his bike to Ann for $50 and Ann offers to pay $40, Bill must either accept or reject Ann's counter-offer. If Bill rejects Ann's counter-offer, Ann cannot force Bill to honor the original offer of $50. This concept is often referred to as "a meeting of the minds."
Promises that are made without consideration generally will not bind the parties to the promise under Washington state law. Consideration is an exchange of benefits and detriments by each party. For example, if Bill agrees to sell is bike for $50 dollars to Ann, he is benefiting by getting paid $50, but his detriment is giving up the bike. Similarly, Ann is giving up $50, but getting a bike in return. If Bill merely promised Ann that he would stop eating pizza, there would be no consideration unless Ann also agreed to give something up.
The state of Washington will honor oral agreements that do not violate the Statute of Frauds. An oral agreement is a contract that has not been written down. The main problem with oral contracts is that, since there is no writing to evidence the terms of the agreement, they can be very difficult to prove in court. However, if a party is able to provide sufficient evidence that an oral contract was made, the Washington courts will enforce it.
Statute of Frauds
The Statute of Frauds is a legal principle that is recognized in nearly every jurisdiction, including the state of Washington. This law mandates that certain types of contracts must be in writing in order to be legally binding and enforceable by the court. Examples of contracts covered by the Statute of Frauds include: land sales, contracts that cannot be completed in one year, prenuptial agreements, surety agreements and sales of goods that meet the criteria set forth in the Uniform Commercial Code.