Be careful what you put in emails!

A recent case serves as a reminder of the care that needs to be taken when engaging in commercial emails. In Nicholas Prestige Homes v Neal the Court of Appeal held that a confirmation reply created a binding contract between the parties even though Neal claimed not to have fully read the earlier email.

The case in question saw Neal engage NPH as estate agents for the sale of Neal`s property. Following an initial discussion, NPH`s employee sent Neal an email attaching two complimentary documents referred to as Agreement Documents. These documents entitled NPH to receive commission should contracts be exchanged with a buyer.

The email itself contained text confirming the arrangements, such as that NPH had sole selling rights from a certain date, and requested acknowledgement of receipt of the email and attachments.

Neal replied to the email stating "That`s fine, look forward to some viewings". Neal tried to argue that this was a response to a previous telephone conversation with NPH`s employee. However, it was decided that as the email was a direct reply to NPH`s (with NPH`s original message appearing below Neal`s reply), it was evidence that Neal had entered into a contract. It was irrelevant that Neal had allegedly not read the email or attachments properly.

The judge drew particular relevance to two factors. Firstly, that the two agreements worked alongside each other meant that it was viable for Neal to agree to both - it was not an `either/or` scenario, as otherwise "that`s fine" might not have made sense. Secondly, the reply was direct to NPH`s original message, rather than being a separate email.

The case should act as a reminder about the dangers of email communication. Although it has its benefits and can be a more flexible way of communicating than by hard copy letters, businesses and individuals should be wary when responding to commercial emails so that they do not become subject to unwanted obligations.

Posted on: 25/02/2011

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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