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Did You Keep Your Promise?

Here's an everyday situation - you agree to do something for a friend while your friend agrees to do something for you in return. Your friend does not keep his end of the bargain. Now what?

If this was a contract where something of value was at stake, one of the first things you'd need to do is prove that you kept your promise and that your friend didn't keep his. At its most basic level, a contract is mutual promises between two parties. The mutual promises can be an action, for example, agreeing to give your friend a ride to the airport, in exchange for something, perhaps helping you move. But when your friend does not help you move, you may believe that he has clearly broken the agreement. But your friend says that he did nothing wrong, because he thought he only had to help you if you also picked him up from the airport, not just brought him there.

Believe it or not, this is a common scenario in our courts. Recently, Octavia Spencer, an actress in "The Help," is suing Sensa, a popular weight loss system for breach of contract. She agreed to be a spokesperson for the weight loss company in exchange for payment. But Spencer refused to have before and after photos be featured in any tabloid pictures and included hashtags on her social media denying that she was a sponsor. Sensa was not pleased. The actress is nevertheless claiming that Sensa is refusing to pay her in breach of their contract.

One of the first steps Spencer must take is to prove that Sensa did in fact breach their contract or mutual agreement. She will no doubt claim that she held up her end by serving as a sponsor. Sensa, in response, will say that Spencer did not act as a sponsor because of the limitations she imposed. To Sensa, Spencer did not uphold her end of their bargain and it does not have to pay her anything.

These examples are intended to illustrate an important point- a contract must be clear about each side's obligations and what happens if they're not met. With the assistance of Angela Yu, Rutgers School of Law & Rutgers Business School.

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