Sunday, July 14, 2024

He ghosted his girlfriend on a ride to the airport. Then she sued him.

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She thought they had a deal. He was nowhere to be found.

A New Zealand woman took her boyfriend to small claims court over a broken promise to drive her to the airport and watch her dogs during her trip, arguing that the agreement represented an oral contract.

According to an order released by the New Zealand Disputes Tribunal this week, the woman had asked her boyfriend of six and a half years to watch her two dogs at her house while she traveled to see a concert. While he may have been guilty of being a jerk, he was ultimately not held responsible for financial damages tied to her missed travel.

He’d allegedly agreed, not only to the pet sitting, but also to take her to the airport. But on the morning of her flight, her beloved could not be reached. Worse, he didn’t show. She missed her flight, but salvaged the trip. After taking her vacation, she took him to the tribunal, a “quicker, cheaper and less formal than court,” its website reads.

You can use the Tribunal to settle small claims up to $30,000 over issues like car or bike accidents, hating your neighbor’s fence or chasing down debts. There are no lawyers or judges; instead, parties show up to hearings and a so-called “referee” helps parties settle disputes, or the referee settles it for them. The outcome is legally binding.

The woman sought compensation for the financial losses from her boyfriend breaching their contract. She’d had to pay for another flight, plus an airport shuttle and a dog kennel. Another slight: He never reimbursed her for a ferry ticket for another vacation, and she wanted that repayment, too.

The order was recently released, according to NBC News, and does not reveal either party’s names, or when the failed airport ride took place. The tribunal concluded its findings in March. The referee, identified in the order as “Ms Cowie DTR,” dismissed the claim.

“There are many examples of friends who have let their friend down, however, the courts have maintained that it is a nonrecoverable loss unless the promise went beyond being a favour between friends and become a promise that they intend to be bound by,” she wrote.

For an agreement to be “enforceable,” there needed to be proof of “an intention to create a legally binding relationship.”

The airport ride case didn’t seem to have that, only basic promises you’d find in a typical romantic relationship.

What would happen in a U.S. court?

Attorney Steven Krieger, who runs a civil litigation firm in Arlington, Va., said the ghosted woman wouldn’t likely have a case in the United States, either.

“In my opinion, this is just an unenforceable promise — and probably not great for the relationship … but I don’t think she can win in the court for monetary compensation,” he said.

A key component missing from her case, Krieger said, is a legal concept called “consideration,” meaning both sides get something of value from the arrangement.

While the woman claimed the boyfriend had enjoyed staying at her house in the past, she hadn’t made a deal with him based on his previous or desired use of her home. It was not a contract to perform a service (watching her dogs and taking her to the airport) or for compensation (using her house), but rather a promise that he’d help her out of a bind.

“Generally promises without anything else are not enforceable,” Krieger said.

It may not have been a slight worthy of pressing charges, it was a crime against etiquette.

“She’s standing there expectantly smiling for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes, an hour and still no boyfriend … that is completely unacceptable for sure,” said Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert also known as Mister Manners.

Who should you take to the airport?

Farley says etiquette doesn’t dictate that you must take your romantic partner to the airport or watch their pets, but ghosting is never the answer.

“If, say, a work commitment had come up that he couldn’t get out of and he had to beg off picking her up from the airport, I would certainly have notified her,” he said.

Nick Leighton, a two-time Emmy-winning talk-show host and co-host of the podcast “Were You Raised By Wolves?” agreed.

“From the etiquette lens, we want to honor our commitments,” he said. “And whenever we need to break a commitment, good etiquette says that we let the person know as soon as possible, we apologize profusely for all the inconvenience that we’re going to cause, and we try to make it up to them if that’s possible.”

While Farley called the entire situation — from the initial ghosting to the taking the issue to a tribunal “absurd,” he did say it points to a larger question: Who deserves a ride to the airport?

“Nobody deserves anything,” Leighton said, but taking someone to the airport is “the ultimate kindness.”

Farley says it depends on the size of the airport and your relationship with the person riding shotgun. Is it a friend or an acquaintance?

“If you have a vehicle and your airport is small enough … I think it’s a really nice gesture,” he said.

For parents, grandparents or people who need help with technology or mobility, you should pick them up or arrange a ride for them.

What about loved ones landing at a chaotic major metropolitan airport who are fully capable of hailing cabs or arranging Ubers? “I think is a really lovely and romantic gesture to do, but does etiquette dictate that you must? No,” Farley said.

If you’re not in the position to take someone to the airport, or just don’t want to, Leighton added, just say no in the first place.

“The idea of setting boundaries and being polite is totally compatible,” he said. “Etiquette does not require you to say yes to everything.”

To save you some heartache, look for a romantic partner that shares your belief on the issue.

“If you need an airport pickup relationship … you need to find a person that matches your style,” Leighton said.

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