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Stees v. Leonard

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiffs contracted with the Defendants to construct a building. After the building twice fell, the Defendants refused to rebuild again averring that the soil was composed of quicksand. The Plaintiffs thereafter sued for damages.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where a party contracts to undertake a duty that in itself is possible, short of an act of God, the law, or the other party to the contract, he must perform.

    Facts. The Plaintiffs entered into an agreement with the Defendants to construct a building. After constructing the building to a height of three stories, the building fell. The Defendants again constructed the building to the same height and it fell again. The Defendants thereafter refused to rebuild. The Defendants claim they did everything according to plan, but the soil upon which the building was to be erected was composed of quicksand. No mention was made in the contract about the character of the foundation of the building.

    Issue. Is a party to a contract bound by an agreement that imposes a hardship on the party that was unknown to the parties at the time of contracting?

    Held. Yes. A person must perform the duties, which are in themselves possible to perform and he has contracted to perform, unless he is prevented from performing by an act of God, the law, or the other party. Here, even though the Defendants twice built the building they contracted to build and it fell, they could not avoid their duties based on the fact that the soil on the property was mainly quicksand. The Defendants could certainly still erect the building. Such an undertaking merely required more effort than originally thought since no one anticipated the condition of the soil when the contract was formed. This is no excuse for failure to perform the duties under the contract. Therefore, the Defendants were bound by the agreement and must pay damages to the Plaintiffs.

    Discussion. Only impossibility or an act of God, the law, or the other party can excuse performance under a contract.


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