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Fla. Pastor Terry Jones Wins Car for Not Burning Qu'ran

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By Jason Beahm on October 21, 2010 10:07 AM

Welcome back to Legally Weird, where it's always weird, but not always legal.

Today's strange tale involves our old friend Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who announced he would be burning a Qu'ran on September 11 this year. The proposed event became a media fire storm, with President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus all saying that the plan would endanger American troops.

It turns out that one more person offered some persuasion as well--car dealer Brad Benson, who made a radio ad around the same time offering to give Terry Jones a new car if he agreed not to burn the Qu'ran: "If you don't burn a Qu'ran, I'll give you a new car."

Imagine Benson's surprise when he received a phone call from one of Jones representatives who called to collect the car, a 2011 Hyundai Accent. Benson at first thought it was a hoax, but upon request, Jones sent in a copy of his driver's license. Jones said that he plans to donate the car to an organization that helps abused Muslim women.

Benson ultimately decided to give Jones the car, after polling his customers, who overwhelmingly said it was the right thing to do. However, under contract law, it is doubtful as to whether he was legally obligated to give Jones the car.

A legally binding contract has the following elements: offer, acceptance, consideration, capacity, intent and legality. In this case, there are potential problems with the acceptance, consideration and intent.

That's because Jones told the Associated Press that the free car wasn't the reason that he cancelled the Qu'ran burning. In fact, he didn't even hear about the offer until a few weeks after September 11th. Note the difference between the two scenarios below. It's not a perfect analogy, but it will give you an idea of the contract elements at play:

Scenario 1: You post a flyer at your office saying, "paint my house today and I'll give you $1,000." A person from the office sees the flyer, drives to your house and paints it. In all likelihood, the contract is valid and you will have to pay.

Scenario 2: You post a flyer at your office saying, "paint my house today and I'll give you $1,000." The same day, a friendly neighbor notices that your house needs some painting so he grabs a brush and paints your house. The next day he hears about the flyer that you put up. The neighbor has fallen on some hard times and could use $1,000, so he calls you up and asks you to pay. In this case, it's doubtful that you have a legal obligation to pay them. Why?

Acceptance: it is doubtful that the neighbor who painted the house accepted the offer because they didn't even know about it. It's hard to accept a contract that you are unaware of.

Consideration: here we have the same problem. The act of painting the house would be a valid form of consideration, if it was done in response to an offer. However, in this case, the painting was actually done as a courtesy. Consideration cannot be created after the fact.

Intent: contracts require a "meeting of the minds." In other words, there can be no contract unless all the parties involved intended to enter into one. Here, you created an open contract, or perhaps more accurately a "reward," that many different people could have accepted by painting your house. However in the case of your neighbor, the painting was done as a courtesy and they had no intent to be bound by the contract.

In the end, Benson likely made a wise business decision to give Jones the car. However, legally, he probably had no obligation to do so.

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