Couple warns Craigslist sellers after buyer threatens to sue them over texts

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- A couple said they were shocked to learn they were in a legally binding contract with a buyer after negotiating by text messages to sell car parts -- and now the buyer is threatening to sue them.

Emery and Will Sidebotham posted an ad on Craigslist for car parts. A buyer contacted Will Sidebotham and the two hashed out the deal via text messages.

Eventually, they agreed on $2,000 for the parts. Shortly after, another buyer approached Sidebotham, offering him $2,500 on the spot.

"I have a guy standing in front of me with money in hand, ready to purchase these parts so obviously that was a motivation to sell right then and there," Will Sidebotham said.

Sidebotham messaged back the first buyer and explained that he could pay $2,500 or the parts would go to the second buyer.

Sidebotham was shocked to get a text back saying if he didn't hold up his end of the deal and sell the first buyer the parts for $2,000, the buyer would sue him.

The buyer told Sidebotham they had entered into a legally binding contract and Sidebotham was about to breach it.

"These were just informal text messages on a first-name basis. I don't even know the guy's last name," Sidebotham said.

However, University of Denver contract law professor Tom Russell said the buyer is in the right.

"A Craigslist deal is a contract like any other contract really," Russell said.

During the course of their conversation, Sidebotham had made an offer and the buyer accepted it. Even though it was through informal texts, that's still considered a legally binding contract.

"At that point, there is an enforceable contract and the texts that are sent back and forth are enough of a writing to help that to be enforceable," Russell said.

At this point, Russell said the buyer could sue for damages. The damages would be the amount of money it would cost for the buyer to buy those same parts from someone else.

For example, if the buyer found the parts for $2,700, he would sue Sidebotham for the $700 difference.

However, Russell said if the Sidebothams offer the buyer the deal again for $2,000 and the buyer doesn't accept it, the buyer can no longer sue for damages because he walked away from the offer.

The Sidebothams hope their story encourages other Craigslist users to be careful with their words when they engage with other people.

"This is something that so many people do and I am afraid for other people that might find themselves in this situation," Emery Sidebotham said.

"The reality is, people need to protect themselves and say the right things and make sure when you're doing these online transactions with people, that you are really specific in how you word things," Will Sidebotham said.

Russell said there are simple steps to avoid being sued by a Craigslist buyer. He said the easiest solution is to uphold your end of the bargain; if you agree with the first buyer on a set amount, you can't cancel on them if a better off comes along.

Russell also suggested setting conditions with a buyer. For example, tell the buyer the deal is only on if they show up at a specified time with the correct amount of cash. If the buyer doesn't show up, then the deal is void.

"I wouldn't want people to become alarmed that every transaction they enter into on Craigslist would end in some sort of threat of litigation because that's simply not how the world works," Russell said. "I don't think they should worry too much either about law or about business."