After a smelly valet stinks up Jerry’s car, Jerry demands that the restaurant pay half the cost to have the car cleaned, $125. However, the restauranter only agrees to pay after Jerry refuses to let him out of the smelly car. Is the restauranter’s offer to pay Jerry $125 to let him out of the car legally binding? Or is there something rotten Jerry’s tactics to get him to pay.
A contract made under duress is not legally binding, and void. There are 3 basic elements to to a duress-defense, which the restauranter will have to show that he made his oral agreement with Jerry under. 1) That there was a threat. 2) The threat is to do something wrongful, such as to commit some crime or tort, to breach the contract in some other way, or to bring some kind of legal suit. 3) The victim of the threat had no other reasonable choice other than to succumb to the threat. Let’s analyze.
Although Jerry did not make any direct threat to the restauranter, it’s quite clear that his actions demonstrated one. Jerry did not directly say that he wouldn’t let the restauranter out of the car if he did not pay him the $125, however he did sarcastically say “I don’t think that’s going to cover it,” when he was offered $50 to let the restauranter out of the car. Therefore, while his words did not directly state a threat, his conduct certainly did so, and the restauranter could meet this first prong of the duress test.
These next two prongs of the test, however, are more complicated as they are more subjective in nature. But based upon the other evidence in this episode, it’s safe to say that this smell is so intense and horrible in nature that it would certainly be considered wrongful to subject someone to it. Jerry’s car wash guy says he hasn’t smelled anything like it in 38 years, and Elaine’s boyfriend of the week Carl won’t even have sex with her because of The Beast. Therefore, while it would be a fact finding mission to officially determine we believe that subjecting someone to this smell would be wrongful.
The restauranter would similarly be able to show the final prong of the test as well. He has no choice but to succumb to Jerry’s demands, as he waves his arms wildly in desperation for Jerry to let him out. Furthermore, with the knowledge that this smell, if attached to a person, is so mutant that it would prevent someone from even having sex with you, there’s no question that the restauranter would want out of the vehicle no matter what the cost. Therefore, he objectively has no reasonable choice other than to give in to Jerry’s demands.
All in all, it seems quite clear that even though the restauranter did agree to pay Jerry half the cost to clean the car, he would have a very straightforward claim that he only made this agreement under duress and that the agreement should be invalid.
But did Jerry even have a claim in the first place? Could Jerry have gone about this a different way and had a legal claim to money from the restaurant? The answer is absolutely yes, as a bad smell could be considered a nuisance tort. As we discussed in “The Chicken Roaster” regarding light-nuisance, interference with somebody’s use of their property can be considered a nuisance tort. No question that here, the mutant smell certainly interferes with Jerry’s use of his car.
But what do you think? Did the restauranter make this agreement with Jerry under duress? Could Jerry make out a nuisance claim against the restaurant? And is the restaurant liable for the smell of it’s valets?