Thumbs up to sealing a deal!

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Dealing with issues to do with buying or selling property or in your current home is a stressful process for most people. So, when communicating by WhatsApp, text, Messenger or any other means, care should be taken not to take shortcuts in your communications with property professionals: the use of a ‘thumbs up’ emoji in your text message could be found to be legally binding!

A farmer in Canada found this to his cost when he was fined over C$82,000 (almost £50,000) for failing to fulfil a contract when the judge overseeing his case ruled that his use of the thumb’s up emoji was legally binding as his signature.

In March 2021, grain buyer, Kent Mickleborough, sent a text message to his clients offering 86 tonnes of flax at the bargain price of C$17 a bushel. Farmer, Chris Achter contacted the seller by phone after which he received a text message requesting his confirmation of the contract. He sent a thumb’s up in response.

When, by November, the flax was not delivered and the price had increased, Achter argued that his use of the thumbs up was simply an acknowledgement of the email; however, Mickleborough argued that it indicated acceptance of the contract.

In the Court of King’s Bench in Saskatchewan, the judge presiding over the case expressed his frustration at having to research the definition of the emoji and its use in different jurisdictions. He recognised that the symbol was an unconventional way of signing an agreement but concluded that under the circumstances it was a valid way of indicating acceptance and did in fact fulfil the purposes of a signature.

The judge dismissed concerns that allowing the thumbs up emoji to signify acceptance of a contract would lead to other emojis being used in a similar way, such as the fist bump or handshake, and said that Canadian society had entered a ‘new reality’ and that the court should not hinder the advancement of technology and the common use of such emojis.

While UK law may not yet view the use of emojis in the same way as Canada, the case is a warning to anyone involved in dealing with contracts. Digital communications are changing the way we do things, so it would be wise to be mindful of the potential consequences of your digital actions.