Gray v. Gardner

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1821.

17 Mass. 188.

Dawson, pp. 721-723


Facts: The defendant promised to pay the plaintiff about $5000 unless, basically, more oil arrived in certain ports in the current year than the previous year.  Whether this condition was satisfied depended on whether the Lady Adams managed to arrive before midnight on October 1st.  The plaintiff sued the defendant for the promised money.  At trial, the evidence was in conflict, but the trial judge ruled that the burden of proof that the oil arrived on time was with the defendants.  The trial judge also ruled that the ship could not be considered to have arrived unless it was moored or anchored by midnight.  The verdict was for the plaintiff, and the defendants appealed.


Issue: (1) Did the defendants really have the burden of proof?  (2) Did the ship arrive on time?


Rule: (1) The promisor has the burden of proof to show that a certain condition occurred that would let him off the hook by the terms of the contract.  (2) As a matter of law, a ship has not arrived in port until it has dropped anchor or has moored.


Analysis: The only big point made by the court is that the parties more or less made a wager and both chose to take a risk.  There’s nothing unfair about it.  Thus, the court should uphold the deal.


Conclusion: The verdict of the trial court is upheld.


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