Can You Be Held To A Contract That You Signed While Intoxicated?

If you sign a contract while you're intoxicated, can you be held to its terms? Quite possibly. This is what you should know before you pick up a pen to sign a bet in a bar with your drinking buddy.

Is there a valid contract?

In order for a contract to be valid, there are essentially four things that have to be true:

  1. An offer was made.
  2. The offer was accepted.
  3. The parties involved intended to bargain or exchange something of value.
  4. There is consideration involved (some benefit each party is to receive once the contract is completed).

In order to prove that a contract should be voided based on intoxication, you usually have to try to prove that you were so drunk, you couldn't actually form the intent to bargain. That can be a very tough sell to a judge. Courts won't allow you out of a contract if you were purposefully drinking.

Is there legal precedence?

There are legal precedences regarding contracts that were made while one or both parties were intoxicated. Unfortunately, the most famous of those cases, Lucy v. Zehmer, ends up siding against the defendant.

While heavily intoxicated, Zehmer agreed to sell his farm to Lucy for $50,000. He later tried to back out of the deal, claiming that the agreement he'd written for the sale on the back of a napkin was meant only in jest on his part.

The court essentially made the ruling that the law will only consider a person's outer expression and not their inner thought processes. In other words, the court will look at the situation from the point of view of a bystander. If a bystander would have thought that you knew what you were doing and actually intended to enter into a binding contract, then the court will hold you to it.

What can you do to prove your case?

It can be very difficult to establish that you were so intoxicated that you couldn't understand the legal consequences of your actions. There is no specific level of intoxication that the courts equate with being "too drunk" to form an intent to bargain or to understand the legal ramifications of your actions.

You do have some possible defenses, however. You may be able to establish through the use of eyewitnesses that you were already seriously intoxicated when the other party approached you about the bargain, bet, or contract. If you can demonstrate that the other party knew that you were intoxicated and purposefully took advantage of you, you may be able to void the contract.

You may also be able to establish that the other party purposefully manipulated you into an intoxicated state (perhaps by buying you round after round of shots) in order to get you to agree to the contract. In that situation, the court may decide that you were unfairly manipulated. If you have a well-documented history of alcoholic blackouts, especially if the other party knew that fact, you could also use that to get the court to void the contract.

Whatever your situation, if you entered into a contract while you were intoxicated and realized your mistake once you sobered up, contact an attorney quickly to check it out