Interpreting Contracts via Surveys and Experiments

58 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2017 Last revised: 28 Jan 2017

Omri Ben-Shahar

University of Chicago Law School

Lior Strahilevitz

University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: January 25, 2017

Abstract

Interpreting the language of contracts is the most common and least satisfactory task courts perform in contract disputes. This article proposes to take much of this task out of the hands of lawyers and judges, entrusting it instead to the public. The article develops and tests a novel regime — the “survey interpretation method” — in which interpretation disputes are resolved though large surveys of representative respondents, by choosing the meaning that a majority supports. The article demonstrates the rich potential under this method to examine variations of the contractual language that could have made an intended meaning clearer. A similar survey regime has been applied successfully in trademark and unfair competition law to interpret precontractual messages, and the article shows how it could be extended to interpret contractual texts. To demonstrate the technique, the article applies the survey interpretation method to five real cases in which courts struggled to interpret contracts. It then provides normative, pragmatic, and doctrinal supports for the proposed regime.

Keywords: Contracts, Interpretation, Trademark, Consumer, Surveys

Suggested Citation

Ben-Shahar, Omri and Strahilevitz, Lior, Interpreting Contracts via Surveys and Experiments (January 25, 2017). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 791. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2905873 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2905873

Omri Ben-Shahar (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Lior Strahilevitz

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-8665 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)

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