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Intoxicated Persons

15 January, 2016 - 09:32

If a person is so drunk that he has no awareness of his acts, and if the other person knows this, there is no contract. The intoxicated person is obligated to refund the consideration to the other party unless he dissipated it during his drunkenness. If the other person is unaware of his intoxicated state, however, an offer or acceptance of fair terms manifesting assent is binding.

If a person is only partially inebriated and has some understanding of his actions, “avoidance depends on a showing that the other party induced the drunkenness or that the consideration was inadequate or that the transaction departed from the normal pattern of similar transactions; if the particular transaction is one which a reasonably competent person might have made, it cannot be avoided even though entirely executory.” 1A person who was intoxicated at the time he made the contract may nevertheless subsequently ratify it. Thus where Mervin Hyland, several times involuntarily committed for alcoholism, executed a promissory note in an alcoholic stupor but later, while sober, paid the interest on the past-due note, he was denied the defense of intoxication; the court said he had ratified his contract. 2 In any event, intoxicated is a disfavored defense on public policy grounds.


Infants may generally disaffirm their contracts up to majority and within a reasonable time afterward, but the rule is subject to some exceptions and complications: necessities, contracts made nonvoidable by statute, misrepresentation of age, extent of duty to return consideration, ratification, and a tort connected with the contract are among these exceptions.

Contracts made by insane or intoxicated people are voidable when the person regains competency. A contract made by a person under guardianship is void, but the estate will be liable for necessities. A contract made while insane or intoxicated may be ratified.


  1. Ivar, an infant, bought a used car—not a necessity—for $9,500. Seller took advantage of Ivar’s infancy: the car was really worth only $5,500. Can Ivar keep the car but disclaim liability for the $4,000 difference?
  2. If Ivar bought the car and it was a necessity, could he disclaim liability for the $4,000?
  3. Alice Ace found her adult son’s Christmas stocking; Mrs. Ace herself had made it fifty years before. It was considerably deteriorated. Isabel, sixteen, handy with knitting, agreed to reknit it for $100, which Mrs. Ace paid in advance. Isabel, regrettably, lost the stocking. She returned the $100 to Mrs. Ace, who was very upset. May Mrs. Ace now sue Isabel for the loss of the stocking (conversion) and emotional distress?
  4. Why is voluntary intoxication a disfavored defense?