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Preexisting Duty

15 January, 2016 - 09:32

Not amenable to settlement by an accord and satisfaction is the situation where a party has a preexisting duty and he or she is offered a benefit to discharge it. When the only consideration offered the promisor is an act or promise to act to carry out a preexisting duty, there is no valid contract. As Denney v. Reppert ( Consideration: Preexisting Obligation ) makes clear, the promisee suffers no legal detriment in promising to undertake that which he is already obligated to do. Where a person is promised a benefit not to do that which he is already disallowed from doing, there is no consideration. David is sixteen years old; his uncle promises him $50 if he will refrain from smoking. The promise is not enforceable: legally, David already must refrain from smoking, so he has promised to give up nothing to which he had a legal right. As noted previously, the difficulty arises where it is unclear whether a person has a preexisting obligation or whether such unforeseen difficulties have arisen as to warrant the recognition that the parties have modified the contract or entered into a novation. What if Peter insists on additional payment for him to remove one wheelbarrow full of quicksand from the excavation? Surely that’s not enough “unforeseen difficulty.” How much quicksand is enough?