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Parol Evidence Rule

DEFINITION

Legal concept that governs the court’s interpretation of the prior alterations, modifications, or supplements to a contract that are permissible and legally valid.

EXPLANATION

The parol evidence rule is a legal concept that indicates the extent to which parties can bring forward evidence of a prior arrangement that were not included in the contract. The rule prevents the use of previous oral agreements to alter the terms of an executed contract if the contract already is legally-binding. Parol evidence can be used, however, to clarify a portion of the contract if parties do not fully understand the contract.

The parol evidence rule exists to prevent inadmissible evidence from being introduced into court. Its main goal is to permit only evidence which is deemed specific to the facts of the case and to not include information that does not answer the issue for which the case is being tried.

It is common for lawyers and parties of a case to introduce information which on the surface seems like evidence, however only acts as a distraction from answering the legal questions. Because many court verdicts are reached incumbent on the vote of a jury, the court deems it not admissible to introduce evidence that distracts the purpose of the case. In the case of jury trials, judges only serve to manage the lawsuit, rather than interpret the law.

The purpose of the parol evidence rule is to base a legal verdict on the information presented in the agreement. The interpretation of a contract is dependent on the ordinary meaning and not a meaning that is intended to confuse or deflect from its casually understood meaning. The evidence looked at must be in writing and contain a paper trail.

Parol Evidence Example

A party that agrees to a monthly contract with the promise they can cancel at anytime has the responsibility to verify that the contract states their ability to terminate the contract. An oral promise is unenforceable due to the fact that unless witnesses exist are impossible to enforce.

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