Clarification on the enforceability of verbal agreements


Wilmots Litigation represented Frank Sytner (founder of the Sytner Group) in a claim against Thomas Boettcher. Mr Boettcher was a collector of classic Porsche racing cars.

Mr Sytner, in his private capacity, had such a car to sell. At Mr Boettcher’s request it was taken to a workshop owned by a Porsche expert who Mr Boettcher instructed to inspect the car. Having inspected the car, with Mr Boettcher and Mr Sytner’s agent present, the expert said that there were one or two defects apparent. Mr Boettcher then negotiated a price reduction in the car and shook hands on the deal with Mr Sytner’s agent. It was agreed that the money for the car would be paid in a few days and the car would then be redelivered to the same premises, once the money had been paid.

After the inspection, Mr Sytner’s agent made his way home and sent off a number of emails consistent with his having just closed the deal with Mr Boettcher. One of those emails was confirming the price and the fact that the deal had been agreed to Mr Boettcher. For reasons which were not fully explained, that went into Mr Boettcher’s spam file and he said he never received it.

In the subsequent days Mr Boettcher supplied details of the company in whose name he intended to buy the car, and other details consistent with the contract having been made.

A few days after this, Mr Boettcher rang the agent and said that due to “information received” he was not going to proceed with the deal and he confirmed that in an email. He declined to say then, or subsequently, what the information was.

Mr Sytner, who had been a motor dealer of many decades standing, accused Mr Boettcher of reneging on the contract, albeit it was an oral one, and, through Wilmots, issued High Court Proceedings to force Mr Boettcher to honour the contract.

The case came on for hearing and both Mr Sytner and his agent gave evidence of the contract although it was conceded that there was no actual contract in writing.

Mr Boettcher gave evidence but was stopped half way through by the Judge, who indicated, robustly, that he did not accept Mr Boettcher’s defence that he had never shaken hands with Mr Sytner’s agent, had never entered into a contract at all, and had never agreed to a price for the car. The Judge indicated that Mr Boettcher’s evidence was contrary to all the surrounding facts, none of which were consistent with his account of what had happened.

As a result of the Judge’s intervention, Mr Boettcher conceded the case and agreed to pay all Mr Sytner’s costs.


1. An oral contract is as valid as a written contract.
2. In order to avoid misunderstandings such as this, is it always best to have an oral contract immediately backed up with a written contract.
3. Better still, if you intend to renege on a contract, choose your victim carefully!